National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

Florida’s infamous hanging chads in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election is small beer compared to what the Conservatives’ oxymoronic Fair Elections Act intends to do – or not do -with your ballot come October.

The Orwellian-named Fair Elections Act, if allowed to stand without major amendments, will automatically disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of qualified voters, according to B.C.’s former Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld.

The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students have come together to seek a court order quashing the anti-democratic and unfair legislation. It had its test drive in the 2011 election and succeeded in disrupting and disenfranchising voters in hundreds of ridings right across Canada.

Among the Fair Elections Act’s numerous deliberate voter suppression provisions is to make it more difficult for voters, particularly the poor and young first-time voters, to prove their residence and identity at the polls by abolishing the longstanding system which allowed one voter to vouch for another’s identity.

Instead of assisting Canadians to exercise their franchise, the government has placed restrictions on Elections Canada’s ability to inform electors about their right to vote and the electoral process. And it has stripped the Chief Electoral Officer of his authority to appoint, consult, and report to Parliament on the activities of the Commissioner of Canada Elections who is responsible for enforcing the act and policing illegal and fraudulent activities meant to suppress and undermine the right to vote.

Garry Neil, Executive Director of the Council of Canadians, says the act is “poisonous to our democracy. We believe  it crucial that the sections of the act we are challenging will be struck down.”

Adds Jessica McCormick, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students which unites more than 500,000 students in all ten provinces: “Youth and students are particularly targeted by restrictive voter ID policies and the specific removal of voter education campaigns.”

This is the second time the Council of Canadians has come forward to fight the Harper Conservatives’ electoral suppression activities. The first was during the 2011 federal election.  It is now generally accepted that electoral fraud was  widespread   during that election when it subsequently emerged than many  hundreds of  voters  across Canada  were sent by false telephone messages to  wrong or non-existent polling stations on Election Day, thus losing their franchise.

But that didn’t dissuade the Conservatives from their continuing search for any and all means to deny non-Conservatives the right to vote. And it was as easy as rolling off a log. The voter identification card (VIC) had been a tried, true and easy method of expanding the franchise. So it had to be stopped, or at least restricted as much as possible. The VIC, probably because it was geared towards the poor, students, the disenfranchised and young, first-time voters (ie. anybody but Conservatives) was jettisoned by the Conservatives.

Still not content with eliminating the voter identification card (VIC), the Harper government piled on and has now prohibited allowing citizens to use the VIC to prove residence or identity, denying tens of thousands of electors their democratic right to vote..

Heading into the 2015 federal election, the VIC, the easiest, most accessible and fairest method to expand the franchise as widely  as possible, has been jettisoned and another major anti-Conservative bloc of voters has been largely disenfranchised by the Conservatives.

Says the Council of Canadians: “The prohibition on the use of the VIC to prove residence or identity also disproportionately and adversely impacts of certain disadvantaged groups, including the young, the elderly, the disabled, the homeless and Aboriginal people…

“Similarly, preventing electors from using vouching to establish identity also disproportionately and adversely impacts on certain disadvantaged groups, including young adults, elderly people, people with disabilities, homeless people and Aboriginal people who are less likely to possess the identification required by the Canada Elections Act, thereby violating section 15(1) of the Charter…”

Another major blow to the public’s right to know is delivered in a further section of the Fair Elections Act. Many of the activities carried out by the Community Relations Officer (CRO) program, which was a centerpiece of the public education and information initiatives undertaken by Elections Canada until the Harper government came to power, are now shut down.

Launched in 2002, it focused on five target groups: young, Aboriginal electors, seniors living in residences and long-term care facilities, ethnocultural communities and homeless electors, in other words, those Canadians most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic right to vote.  All, now, have been terminated.

It’s difficult to draw any other conclusion than this is a government that dislikes the culture, people and history of the country it runs.

Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.

She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba’s Role in Canada’s Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.

She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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