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Scrap the Fair Elections Act said Chilliwack protesters

Gwen O
Gwen O'Mahony, former Chilliwack NDP MLA, speaks during a rally against the Fair Elections Act outside MP Mark Strahl's office on Vedder Road on Tuesday. Behind her, rally organizer Wayne Froese (left) and Louis de Jaeger, president of the Chilliwack-Hope Liberal Riding Association, listen.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

A rally Wednesday in Chilliwack against the federal Fair Elections Act saw "democracy dogs" barbecued in front of MP Mark Strahl's office.

The lunchtime protest on Vedder Road mirrored similar rallies across Canada on March 25, calling on the Harper government to scrap Bill C-23.

It's seen as a threat and politically motivated tactic to restrict voting in the next election. The rallies turned into a national day of action, with a petition signed by thousands.

About 60 people of different political stripes converged in the parking lot of the local MP's office to ask the government to "kill this bill!"

Rally organizer Wayne Froese read out a letter signed by Canadian university professors who believe the Act, if passed, would "damage" the heart of the country's democracy, which is the right to vote in federal elections.

Fairness and transparency were big concerns.

The move to dispense with voter ID cards and vouching, was roundly criticized, and the ID requirements are seen as unnecessarily strict, that could become a barrier to voting.

It would also prevent Elections Canada from publicly reporting on election fraud, and cancel Elections Canada's research and public education programs.

"I believe our best defense against it, and our best action, is to create further awareness," said Froese. "This is a right and it needs to be addressed."

Louis de Jaeger, president of the Chilliwack-Hope Federal Riding Association, argued the "Orwellian sounding" Fairer Elections Act has more to do with "gaming" the system, and providing Harper Conservatives with political advantage, than it has to do with fairer elections.

The changes favour the sitting party, but not opposition parties or democracy in general, he said, and the Harper government even used its majority this week to defeat amendments proposed.

"This bill needs public opposition and should be challenged at every level," De Jaeger said.

Former Chilliwack MLA Gwen O'Mahony noted the non-partisan nature of the rally and thanked the participants for showing up and "caring about Canadian democracy."

Bill C-23 doesn't do anything to enhance the democratic process, which is its failing, "especially when we're facing historic lows of voter turnout," she said.

Rallies were held at more than 25 MP offices with a petition signed by more than 80,000 Canadians. Called "Let People Vote!"  it was a national day of action supported and facilitated by Leadnow.ca, the Council of Canadians, and Canadian Federation of Students.

"People are worried that the changes to the elections law are politically motivated," said Jamie Biggar, Executive Director of Leadnow.ca. "We've seen politicians use similar tactics in the US to disenfranchise people if they think they will vote for the other side."

A recent poll shows that most Canadians oppose the provisions in the Unfair Elections Act that would eliminate the voucher system, prevent Elections Canada from publicly reporting on election fraud, and cancel Elections Canada's research and public education programs.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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