Letters: Election changes should be done right

It is critical that any new rules governing elections be fair. But calling them fair does not make them so.

Regarding the federal government’s proposed Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23, and the recent letter from MP Mark Strahl defending it: (Progress, April 11)

It is critical that any new rules governing elections be fair. But calling them fair does not make them so. With something so important to our democracy and to the future health of our life together, Canadians should be paying careful attention.

•  The legislation proposes that the party which wins in each riding will nominate the central poll supervisors for the next election. An analogy: the winner of a hockey tournament gets to pick the referees for the next tournament. Fair?

•   The legislation proposes eliminating “vouching” and the use of voter id. cards to establish identity or residence. Why?  Mark Strahl cites a quote plucked from an Elections Canada report, but a fair discussion would inform you that the author of that report (Harry Neufeld, former chief electoral officer of British Columbia) says that the government is misrepresenting the report, and that the report’s concerns with irregularities are about problems with the complexity of the system and training, not with voter fraud:  “I never said there was voter fraud. Nor did the Supreme Court, who looked at this extremely carefully.”  He says further that there is not a shred of evidence that there have been more than a “handful” of cases of deliberate voter fraud, and indeed the government’s arguments for the proposed legislation don’t provide any evidence either. Had this bill been in place in the 2011 elections about 120,000 people would have been turned away at the polls, most of them with id. but with problems establishing their place of residence (students, for example, or someone who has moved).  Wouldn’t it be more fair to improve the system rather than to destroy it?

•  The legislation removes the role Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer have in encouraging citizens to vote, to participate in our democracy. (An example: promotion of civics education in  schools).  Strahl argues for this using figures pointing out that voter participation has declined over past decades, as if it is not in serious decline everywhere. Instead of leaving it up to the parties, wouldn’t a truly fair elections act work towards improving participation and informing voters in a non-partisan way?

•   Is it fair to point out that, despite insinuation from Strahl that commentary critical of the bill is bickering from opposition parties, the bill’s critics include Preston Manning, Sheila Fraser (former auditor general of Canada and scourge of the Chretien Liberals), electoral officers from across Canada, and, as noted above, the very author of the report Strahl cites?

Whatever your political persuasion, surely you want our elections to be fair. Something as important as this deserves careful scrutiny, and feedback to our representatives. There are many other troubling aspects in this bill. A simple internet search for “fair elections act” will inform you.

Greg Schlitt