Fair Elections Act fails to live up to its name

Linda Leon Open letter to MP Ryan Leef: Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, a man big on partisanship and short on principles, once considered an public radio station, CKUA, a thorn in his side. To solve this problem, he appointed a crony as both board

by Linda Leon

Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:

Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, a man big on partisanship and short on principles, once considered an public radio station, CKUA, a thorn in his side. To solve this problem, he appointed a crony as both board chair and CEO of CKUA, according to Marylu Walters’s book, CKUA: Radio Worth Fighting for.

Gail Hinchliffe paid herself, board members and friends huge salaries and fees while bankrupting the radio station and blaming staff for financial mismanagement, Walters’s book alleges. Problem solved from Klein’s point of view.

Stephen Harper must have been paying attention. In 2007, he appointed Christiane Ouimet to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission as a part of the Federal Accountability Act. Her job was to investigate reports by whistle-blowers and promote ethics within government.

In 2011, Ouimet resigned in disgrace, following a report that alleged she suppressed reports of wrongdoing and reprisals. She was paid half a million dollars out of public coffers to keep her mouth shut.

Having created an atmosphere of fear within the civil service, Harper is not troubled by bothersome whistle-blowers. So much for integrity. So much for accountability.

If Mr. Harper smirked when he appointed Ouimet to the integrity commission, he must have been chortling when he appointed Pierre Pollievre as minister of state for democratic reform. “Democratic” is not a word that comes to mind when listening to Pollievre’s introduction of the Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23.

In a blame-shifting exercise that would make Rob Ford blush, Pollievre blamed Elections Canada for the necessity of muzzling Elections Canada. “The referee should not be wearing a team jersey,” he said.

Apparently the various and numerous electoral crimes committed by Conservatives since 2006 are somehow not crimes. Pollievre went on to dismiss the need for public hearings on electoral reform as a “costly partisan circus.” How interesting to know that the 60 per cent of voters who didn’t support the Conservative Party in the last election are partisan and a circus.

There are many serious problems with Bill C-23. The first is that the Conservative government acted unilaterally without consulting opposition members and rammed the bill through by limiting debate. Electoral reform is important enough that it should require parliamentary consensus. A government that was working in good faith would not behave this way.

Elections Canada would no longer provide get-out-and-vote campaigns or electoral education for students. Is the Conservative government that invested in keeping voters at home and future generations ignorant?

The new voter identification requirements would suppress votes by making it difficult for university students, the homeless, those working outside their constituencies and those in remote places to become enumerated.

Why not make voter identification card requirements and the vouching system more stringent? Where are the statistics for proven voter fraud? This is a shabby attempt to suppress the vote, not unlike recent Republican attempts to suppress the black vote in the U.S.

Bill C-23 would provide stricter penalties for electoral crime, which I applaud. However, it would place the enforcement arm of Elections Canada, the commissioner of Elections Canada, under the attorney general, which is a cabinet appointment thus making this office vulnerable to political interference. The commissioner, while having the ability to make charges, wouldn’t be able to compel witnesses to testify, thereby making it almost impossible for charges to be laid. This bill would render the commissioner toothless.

The work of the commissioner would be removed from access to information requests. Furthermore, the commissioner wouldn’t be required to provide information about ongoing investigations.

The act trivializes charges of electoral expense claim fiddling, calling them disagreements between Elections Canada and members of Parliament. Is it appropriate that MPs under investigation for violations of the Elections Canada laws, such as Dean Del Mastro, be allowed to sit in the House of Commons?

Pierre Poutine must be thrilled. Did he write the above clauses himself?

Pierre Poutine was never caught. The crime of voter suppression in the last election originated with an individual or individuals high enough up in the Conservative Party apparatus to have access to the Constituent Information Management System. It is very likely that these people still have their jobs, possibly in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Demand reforms of the Fair Elections Act that will actually make it fair. If you cannot bring about change, do not defend the indefensible.

P.S. Supporters of freedom of expression and democracy were numerous enough even in Alberta to rally, fundraise and save CKUA.

Linda Leon is a Whitehorse freelance writer.