Canadians are baffled by the chaos of American federal elections in which 50 different jurisdictions pick through a snowstorm of hanging chads in an attempt to decide which party each state will send to the electoral college which in turn will choose a president. In Canada things are simpler. And fairer. we have a single non-partisan national agency, called Elections Canada, that is responsible for (a) running the federal election (b) making sure that as many citizens as possible are registered to vote and (c) investigating cases of voter fraud.
Maybe that last one rubbed the present Conservative government the wrong way when, in the last election, Elections Canada found that some local conservative associations telephoned supporters of the opposition Liberal party, pretending to be Elections Canada officials, and directing them to the wrong polling station.
“No more!” said the Conservatives. Not “no more dirty tricks”, you understand. Rather “no more investigations of our dirty tricks.”
To ensure this, the Conservative government is pushing a bill that will weaken the ability of Elections Canada to pursue wrong-doing.
That’s not all. Misnamed the “Fair Elections Act”, this bill will also do away with the current issuance of cost-free identification cards, a move that will virtually disenfranchise thousands of poor, elderly, disabled or homeless citizens, many of whom have no proof of permanent address. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that all citizens have a right to vote. All citizens. Not just citizens with drivers’ licenses. (Oddly, the U.S. constitution does not guarantee all citizens the right to vote, and conservatives there are busily frightening poor and uneducated citizens with threats of prosecution if they try to vote.)
That’s not all. The “Fair Elections Act” will allow winning parties to appoint poll supervisors for the next election. Right now, the non-partisan Elections Canada appoints the supervisors.
We Canadians have been smug too long about our healthy democracy. It is now under threat.
PS — I wrote this months ago. The Conservatives have since mellowed their attack on democracy, but they still nip at its ankles. They rarely fail to disgust me.