Commentary: New Election Law Smacks of Vote Rigging
By Ralph Goodale
Member of Parliament for Wascana
More and more Canadians are deeply suspicious of Stephen Harper's so-called "Fair Elections Act", known as Bill C-23. On the surface, it sounds like a lot of technical stuff that would only interest political science policy wonks, not the general public. That's what Mr. Harper is counting on.
But look again -- This Bill will disenfranchise some voters, suppress others, put a government gag-order on Elections Canada to shut them up about issues like electoral fraud, deprive those who investigate election-related crimes of the modern powers they need, and force them to come under the wing of a government department rather than reporting independently to Parliament.
Some 200 recognized experts in Parliamentary governance and democracy have publicly condemned this corrupting legislation. They come from virtually every institution of higher learning in the country, and across the entire political spectrum. The current Chief Electoral Officer, Mark Mayrand, is sharply opposed, as is the Commissioner of Elections, Yves Côté, who is in charge of investigations and enforcement at Elections Canada. Their predecessors have also joined the criticism, together with provincial election administrators. And a chorus of editorial writers in all the major media from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Perhaps the sternest rebuke came last week from former Auditor-General Sheila Fraser. She called Bill C-23 "an attack on democracy" which further undermines the independence and integrity of public interest watchdogs -- like Elections Canada is supposed to be.
As the reaction grows louder and universally negative, there's not a single soul -- outside Mr. Harper's inner-circle -- who will actually stand-up and defend this Bill. And remember the types who have populated that inner-circle recently ... Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, Pamela Wallin, Irving Gerstein, Bev Oda, Peter Penashue, Dean Del Mastro, Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter, Dimitri Soudas, etc. There's not much among them to inspire trust and confidence.
The responsibility, however, rests not with such minions, but entirely with Stephen Harper. He's the boss. Bill C-23 is his concoction.
Before he was first elected, Mr. Harper's only job in the private sector was running an ultra right-wing lobby group which sought to inject big money into election campaigns, outside all the rules, to pervert the outcomes. He wanted no limits and no accountability. Elections Canada stopped him. He took them to court in a famous case known as "Harper vs. Canada" and he lost.
Ever since, Mr. Harper has seen Elections Canada as an enemy. He has called them "jackasses" (his term, not mine). And he incessantly attacks the rules that are intended to ensure an open, level playing-field with fair and honest campaigning and voting.
Just look at his record in office. After he came to power in 2006, he spent five years trying to dodge an investigation into more than a million dollars in illegal Conservative campaign spending and wrongful rebate claims. He and his faithful mouthpiece, Pierre Poilievre, denied all wrong-doing. But after a police raid on Conservative headquarters, charges were laid, the Party pled guilty, a conviction was entered and the biggest penalty possible was imposed.
Since then, there have been robocalls, voter suppression and electoral fraud. One Conservative operative is already being prosecuted while investigations continue. In a parallel case heard last year in the Federal Court of Canada, there was an explicit finding that electoral fraud was, in fact, committed in several ridings in the last election, and the most likely source of the data used was the highly-secretive Conservative computer system.
Add to this the electoral violations that forced Mr. Harper's hand-picked candidate in Labrador (Penashue) to resign in disgrace, and the laying of four charges against the Prime Minister's former Parliamentary Secretary (Del Mastro), and the admissions of several other Conservative Caucus members of other irregularities. What emerges is a deeply troubling pattern. All on Mr. Harper's watch. All right under his nose.
If Bill C-23 is forced into law, it will only become easier for Conservative "big money" to pervert future elections, for the poor, the disabled, the elderly, rural people, new citizens and Aboriginals to lose the ability to vote, for electoral fraud to be committed with impunity with no real fear of investigation or prosecution, and for the Conservatives to silence Elections Canada as an advocate for democratic rights.
Surely such manipulation has no place in modern Canadian democracy.