Introduced in February 2014, the Conservative-backed Fair Elections Act (Bill C-25), which aims to crack down on voter fraud, is now a fully enacted bill that raises major red flags for its disenfranchising effects. With the federal elections coming up in October of this year, many Canadians are questioning if this is actually the most effective method to ensure secure voting. The motivation behind the act seems fair enough, at face value. However, the implementation methods detailed in the bill have many damaging side effects, including the disenfranchisement of multiple vulnerable voting blocks, potentially giving the Conservative Party an unfair advantage in the upcoming federal election. The objective of this act, according to the Canadian government, is to crack down on voter fraud. One of the central tactics it employs is changing the documents required to demonstrate voter eligibility. In April 2014, Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre claimed that “in a 21st century democracy, where people are required to produce ID to drive a car […] it is common sense to expect people to show ID to demonstrate who they are when they vote.”
On Monday, Tory MP Pierre Poilievre announced a re-elected Conservative government would pass a law to prevent any future government from changing the voting system without a referendum. The NDP wants to bring in proportional representation, electing some MPs from party lists to make the House of Commons more representative. The Liberals want ranked ballots — where second choices are counted in — but say they would have a parliamentary committee consider both ideas. Neither party has promised a referendum on the change, and the Conservatives think that’s bad. “Both Justin Trudeau and the NDP say they will revolutionize how Canadians elect their government and neither is willing to give the Canadians a say in the matter,” Poilievre said.
Two advocacy groups are asking the courts to set aside new Conservative election rules that they say will make it more difficult for thousands of Canadians to vote in this year’s federal election. The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students have filed evidence to support a constitutional challenge of last year’s legislation, dubbed the Fair Elections Act by the Harper government. “The very legitimacy of the government is at issue if these rules stand, in our submission,” lawyer Steven Shrybman told a news conference Monday. The groups say new voter identification rules contravene Section 3 of the charter, which states everyone has the right to vote, as well as the equality provisions in the Constitution. The office of Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre did not respond to a request for comment on the court challenge.
The government has introduced legislation to tighten the rules for Canadians who want to cast a ballot while living outside the country. Under the proposed new rules, anyone who wants to vote in a Canadian federal election while living abroad will have to provide proof of citizenship, as well as their most recent Canadian address, in order to receive a ballot. The new requirements will not apply to those serving in the Canadian Armed Forces. The chief electoral officer will also be authorized to cross-reference current voting list with citizenship and immigration data to purge non-Canadians from the voting list. A government-issued backgrounder accompanying the bill notes that in Canada, voters “cannot pick and choose their riding,” but are required to cast a ballot in the riding in which they live. “By contrast, Canadians living abroad do not have to prove any past residence in the riding in which they vote,” it notes.
The Harper government is refusing to disclose how much it will cost taxpayers to separate the commissioner of elections from Elections Canada — a move Conservatives insisted upon even though electoral experts said it was unnecessary. The government says all briefing materials on the cost and logistics of transferring the election commissioner’s operations to the director of public prosecutions are cabinet confidences. As such, they can’t be released in response to an access-to-information request. Moving the election commissioner under the auspices of the public prosecutor was a key measure in a controversial overhaul of election laws pushed through Parliament by the Conservatives last spring despite near-universal condemnation by electoral experts at home and abroad. Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre insisted the move was necessary to ensure the commissioner’s independence from the chief electoral officer, who Conservatives contend is biased against their party.
Canada: ‘Fair Elections Act’ will be challenged in court by Council of Canadians, Federation of Students | National Post
The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students announced Thursday they will challenge the Harper government’s new election bill, hours before Gov. Gen. David Johnston was to grant royal assent, making it law. The council and federation will go to Superior Court of Ontario to challenge the law on the grounds that it violates section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the “right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.” The two groups intend to challenge voter-ID provisions that critics say will make it harder for students, aboriginals and seniors to vote, and changes that limit the mandate of the chief electoral officer to promote voting.
Canada’s election chief says he is pleased with the “significant improvements” made to the Fair Elections Act — a bill he originally slammed as a serious threat to Canadians’ voting rights. “I think there’s been substantive improvements to the legislation,” Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand told reporters on Thursday — his first public pronouncements since the Conservative government bowed to critics and made amendments to the legislation. The big improvements, Mayrand said, revolve around closing political-fundraising loopholes and allowing voters to continue to prove their identity through the vouching system at the ballot box. These were among his top concerns when he told the Star earlier this year that no election reform would be better than the first draft of the Fair Elections Act.
A court decision that handed the right to vote to more than one million Canadians who have lived outside the country for more than five years will be appealed, the Conservative government said Monday. In addition, Ottawa said it would seek a stay of the ruling, dashing hopes some expatriates might have had of voting in the byelections scheduled for the end of the month.”Non-residents should have a direct and meaningful connection to Canada and to their ridings in order to vote in federal elections,” Pierre Poilievre, minister of state responsible for democratic reform, said in a statement. “For over two decades, Canada’s policy has limited to five years the length of time someone can be abroad and still vote. That is fair and reasonable.” The application to put the ruling on hold pending the appeal is expected to be heard on June 20.
A court decision that handed the right to vote to more than one million Canadians who have lived outside the country for more than five years will be appealed, the Conservative government said Monday. In addition, Ottawa said it would seek a stay of the ruling, dashing hopes some expatriates might have had of voting in the byelections scheduled for the end of the month. “Non-residents should have a direct and meaningful connection to Canada and to their ridings in order to vote in federal elections,” Pierre Poilievre, minister of state responsible for democratic reform, said in a statement. “For over two decades, Canada’s policy has limited to five years the length of time someone can be abroad and still vote. That is fair and reasonable.”
Late Tuesday, MPs stood in the House of Commons to vote on third reading of Bill C-23, sending it to the Senate, which is expected to speedily pass it, leaving only the formality of royal assent. On Thursday, when the government brought in time allocation to limit debate on the bill, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre declared victory. “The Canadian people widely support this bill,” he said. “It is a very popular piece of legislation. We won the debate on it and now we will pass it into law.” On Monday, the NDP said they won the debate, rallying opposition to C-23, forcing the government to accept changes. “What was at the beginning a very bad bill is simply today only a bad bill,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. Either way, the long, strange process by which the Fair Elections Act — or Unfair Elections Act, as the opposition calls it — is coming to an end, and the most significant piece of legislation in this session is about to be law, not quite as either side intended.
Conservative Senators plan to support the government’s recent amendments to the Fair Elections Act when it reaches the Senate later this week for what is likely to be a swift passage of the controversial electoral reform legislation. Conservative Senate Whip Elizabeth Marshall told The Hill Times that there were concerns within the Conservative Senate caucus before the bill was amended by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee earlier this month, but she’s hearing a lot less dissent over the legislation now that it’s headed for the Upper Chamber. “The Senators were talking before the hearings, but compared to what I heard before the report, and what I heard after… it’s subsided now with the [Senate] report, but I would expect that when the bill comes if there are any other issues or concerns they’ll be raised, because the Senators do tend to speak quite freely amongst ourselves if we have concerns,” Sen. Marshall said in an interview.
Canada: Tories open to amending elections bill, except for voter ID requirement | The Globe and Mail
The final version of the government’s electoral reform bill will require all voters to show identification before they vote, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre pledged, adding the Conservatives are nonetheless open to other changes. Speaking to an Economic Club of Canada audience in Ottawa on Thursday, the minister addressed one of the most hotly debated aspects of the proposed Fair Elections Act, saying average Canadians believe it is “common sense” to require that voters present ID – essentially, that vouching isn’t good for democracy. “We are open to improvements to this bill, and very soon the government will make clear which amendments it will support,” Mr. Poilievre told the luncheon guests. “But let me be clear on this point: The Fair Elections Act, in its final form, will require every single voter produce ID showing who they are before they vote.”
Canada: Fair Elections Act: Vouching is ‘problematic,’ Conservative Senator Linda Frum says | CTV News
A Conservative senator on the committee recommending changes to the controversial Fair Elections Act says she is convinced that vouching is “problematic,” and that alternatives to proof of identification must be found. A Senate committee made up primarily of Conservative members earlier this week recommended nine changes to the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act — an electoral reform bill proposed by Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre. But the committee did not recommend changes to one of Bill C-23’s most-controversial provisions, which would eliminate the practice of vouching — where one person can vouch for another if they don’t have proper ID — and the use of voter cards as a way for voters to prove their identity. “In our Senate report, we didn’t touch those provisions; we stood by them, we agree,” Senator Linda Frum told CTV’s Question Period. Frum said it is “reasonable” to ask voters to produce identification and proof of residence. “I’ve heard all the statements about how that can be difficult in some instances, but frankly, I think for most Canadians, it’s not problematic.”
The Conservative government may finally be waking up to the enormity of its own recklessness. With the Fair Elections Act, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre wasn’t just taking aim at Canadian democracy. He wasn’t just going to war against evidence and experts. He was taking a gun, loading the magazine, cocking the hammer and pointing it at his own head and the government’s. Finger on the trigger, he’s now wondering if anyone might suggest ways to lessen the chance of injury. The Conservative majority on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, having barely begun its study of the bill, is already recommending that he remove some of the bullets. Some, but not all. Here’s a better idea, for the country and the Conservative Party: Put the gun down. On Tuesday, the Senate committee’s Conservative majority offered an interim report, containing nine suggested amendments. Their proposals make the bill less bad, which is something. Less bad, but still not good. Is it too much to ask for legislation that leaves our democratic system no worse off, or even makes it better?
As criticism of the Conservatives’ electoral reform bill continues to mount, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre launched an attack on Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.
Poilievre said Tuesday that Mayrand, the independent head of Elections Canada appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is criticizing the so-called Fair Elections Act out of a desire for more power. “The reality is that regardless of amendments and improvements that the bill potentially will have included, the CEO will not ultimately approve it,” Poilievre said.
“(Mayrand’s) recommendations really boil down to three broad requirements for him: he wants more power, a bigger budget, and less accountability.” Poilievre also accused Mayrand of “grasping at straws” and making “astounding” claims about Bill C-23 in an attempt to scuttle the legislation. Poilievre was asked to take back his comments in the House of Commons Tuesday. He declined, saying he stood by his testimony.
Canada: Neufeld says more than 100,000 to be disenfranchised under feds’ election bill, will testify at House Affairs Committee next week | Hill Times
The opposition parties have former B.C. elections chief Harry Neufeld at the top of their witness lists for testimony on proposed Conservative election law after he warned that “well over 100,000” electors will be denied their right to vote if the government goes ahead with plans to prohibit voter vouching for electors with no official ID. Mr. Neufeld, who conducted an exhaustive review of electoral law and rule compliance in the 2011 election, has challenged the government’s position that widespread irregularities he found in the way vouching was administered on election day were indicative of potential fraud, as well as the government claim that an Elections Canada voter information card is too unreliable to be also used by voters who have insufficient ID to prove their residence. Elimination of the two voter identification methods are among the most controversial aspects of Bill C-23, and are also on a list of measures in the legislation that the opposition says could benefit the Conservative party the most because electors who generally use either vouching or the information cards—which Elections Canada had planned to approve as official residence ID for the next election—have tended to support parties other than the Conservatives.
The author of a report cited repeatedly to justify cracking down on potential voter fraud says the Harper government is misrepresenting his report and ignoring his recommendations. Indeed, Harry Neufeld says there’s not a shred of evidence that there have been more than “a handful” of cases of deliberate voter fraud in either federal or provincial elections. “I never said there was voter fraud,” Neufeld said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Nor did the Supreme Court, who looked at this extremely carefully.” Neufeld said the government’s efforts to prevent voter fraud are aimed at a non-existent problem. And he predicted they’ll wind up disenfranchising thousands of voters and resulting in a rash of court challenges.