Canada Elections Act Changes Fall Short

The federal government’s announcement that it will enact seven of the 132 recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer to amend the Canada Elections Act, was well received by Canadians, though most are unaware of the 125 recommendations left to gather dust.

The amendments in Bill C33 are all aimed to improve access to voting, and to increase the voter turnout among young people. The changes include restoration of the Voter Information Card as one of two pieces of identification required before voters are given a receive a ballot; and restoration of vouching to allow people without two pieces of ID to be vouched for by someone who knows them, and will swear to it.

The Bill restores the Chief Electoral Officer’s ability to encourage voting with public education and information programs, both of which had been stripped by the Tories’ Unfair Elections Act. The CEO also has new powers to ‘clean-up’ the National Register of Electors, and to create a register of 16 and 17 year olds who will turn 18 before the next general election, to encourage them to vote, and to add them to the voters list automatically on their 18th birthday.

The Bill will also extend voting rights to Canadians living abroad by eliminating the current the five year limit.

It will give the Commissioner of Elections Canada the same independence as the Chief Electoral Officer, to report directly to Parliament, and to be answerable to Parliament. The Tories had put the Commissioner, who polices the Elections Act, under the thumb of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, making prosecution of electoral wrong-doing weaker, less transparent, and more subject to political influence.

These are all useful ways to expand access to voting, though the Communist Party and others have long campaigned to restore door-to-door enumeration, which remains the best way to extend the franchise to all electors.

But what’s not in the Bill is just as important, starting with the very sensible proposal that political parties should be required to show proof of the expenditures they claim, and for which the Tories, Liberals, NDP, BQ and Greens are reimbursed annually at the rate of 50%; or $33 million of public money, last year alone. Apparently this measure didn’t make the government’s top 7 or even top 10 list.

Here’s another couple that didn’t make the list: the requirement that robo-call lists, including names and phone numbers, be compiled, maintained and filed with the CRTC indefinitely; that the Commissioner of Elections Canada be given the power to lay a charge, and to seek judicial authorization to compel testimony. Didn’t make the grade, it seems.

Or how about these very positive CEO recommendations: that free-time broadcasting during elections be equally divided among all registered parties, and include not just the networks, but all radio, television and media, and that candidates no longer be required to submit 100 signatures of voters to be nominated. Or how about the proposal to make proof of identity “satisfactory” instead of “documentary”, which would have removed another barrier introduced by the Tories’ voter suppression Bills. Or how about the CEO’s interesting proposal to change voting day to a weekend, instead of a week day – like they do Down Under.

Here’s an important proposal from the Communist Party: legislate big cuts to election spending limits, and increase real political debate by requiring media to include all parties in debates and discussions. If they can put twelve chairs on the stage for the Tory leadership candidates, they can do it for electing MPs to Parliament.

The biggest omission, the one that the PM promised to make his Number One amendment, was to end the first-past-the-post voting system, and to replace it with democratic electoral reform. In public consultations this summer and fall, the public backed an electoral system called Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP).

Just days after the release of Bill C-33, the Minister for Democratic Reform announced that its proposals for electoral reform were on hold, because the public consultations focused almost exclusively on MMP and the status quo. The government doesn’t want MMP, which would not give the Liberals another huge majority.

The informed public knows that the alternative to first-past-the-post is MMP, not the Single Transferable Vote (STV) or any of the other rubbish the Liberals and Tories have tried to pass off as a democratic alternative. And so, the promise of “democratic electoral reform or bust!” has been cut down to size. Size 7, it seems, fits all. And look no further – it’s all there in Bill C-33.

The left and progressive forces need to get busy, and not just because of the Liberals’ broken promise. Just look south to see what the attack on jobs and democracy has wrought. Or look at Toronto, where former Mayor Rob Ford’s far-right brother Doug has just announced his bid for Mayor, on a platform opposed to road tolls and “government elites” in Canada’s biggest city.

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