Monday, April 7, 2014

Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act: A solution looking for a problem?

The current version of the Conservative Party of Canada is just too weird at times. Dimitri Soudas, Dean Del Mastro, Peter Van Loan, how do fellows like these rise to the highest levels of the party? How do they become so closely linked to our prime minister?

And what of Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the minister who is sponsoring Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act? Poilievre may be very bright, and he may be hyperpartisan and loyal to a fault, but he’s among the last members of parliament I’d choose to sponsor something as sensitive as the reform of the elections act.

Poilievre is brash and aggressive and hardly comes across as a consensus builder. He’s not the sort one would expect would be charged with reforms that cry out for all-party support.

Elections are a cornerstone of and are fundamental to our democracy. As such, reforms to the process should be the subject of broad-based consultation and research. And, while total consensus is unlikely to be reached on all reforms, Canadians should not see the almost universal criticism we have seen from citizens and experts alike—not if a more appropriate process had been followed when developing the reforms.

To be fair, I personally haven’t found much to criticize about the proposed reforms.

I don’t find, for example, that the loss of vouching—one of the most contentious issues in the proposed law—as so bad a thing. My province, Ontario, does not allow vouching in provincial elections. Ontario, though, does allow voters to use voter information cards in conjunction with other identification to verify their addresses. Apparently, though, use of voter identification cards will not be allowed in federal elections.

Some of the other contentious issues are beyond me. Some seem reasonable enough, but others are too technical, and I have to rely on the assessments of experts. However, in virtually every case where experts have commented publicly, they have found fault with Bill C-23. And here I mean real experts, not just news media and ordinary citizens with an opinion, informed or otherwise.

The level of unanimity among those whose opinions I believe to be best informed is nothing short of compelling. And Pierre Poilievre seems to be dismissing their concerns as mere hyperbole.

Current and former chief electoral officers have raised their concerns with Bill C-23, including current federal chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, former federal chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and the chief electoral officers of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories.

Even former B.C. chief electoral officer, Harry Neufeld, who has written an authoritative elections Canada report on vouching (Neufeld Report), has raised concerns. Neufeld also accused Poilievre of misrepresenting his position by “selectively reading and quoting” his report. In total, over 150 political scientists, many of whom are eminently qualified, have urged Minister Poilievre to reconsider key provisions of the proposed legislation.

One wonders, though, if this minister has the requisite capacity to listen and, if necessary, to compromise. Hyper-partisanship has its place to be sure, but not at the table where election law reform is developed and debated.

Many of the critics of the Bill have no partisan axe to grind and they should be listened to and their advice, at least in part, taken. Had this been the process leading up to the introduction of the Bill—rather than seeming to try and tilt the electoral system in favour of the CPC—we wouldn’t be going through yet another torturous and divisive national debate where its the CPC against virtually everyone else.

The CPC can be too damned weird at times.


  1. old white guy says..... the sad part about all of politics in Canada the u.s. and elsewhere the people have become so detached from reality that it is difficult to understand why they even bother to vote. they always want more social programs even when they have been told there is no money for them. hey, that's ok just borrow it. stupid does not begin to define the problem.

  2. Interesting post Russ, however I don't take much stock in the "testimony" of former bureaucrats like Nuefeld and Fraser as they are being paid huge sums of taxpayer dollars to share in the opinions of an obviously corrupt EC official like Mayrand. I'm suspicious of those like Mayrand that are advocates for voter fraud, and those that have to be paid massive amounts of taxpayer money to "share" in that advocacy.

  3. Well said. I am a small c conservative and I feel the Tories really blew this. I've always generally separated my own personal views from what's best for democracy. I support preferential ballots for example even though that may benefit parties on the left despite being on the right. Reforming elections should be based on what it is best for democracy, not what is likely to help increase the chances of helping their party win. I think the Tories looked to the US where hyper-partisanship is more rampant than in Canada and some of the policies they have implemented assuming they would work in Canada, when in fact Canadians are far less polarized as well as most regardless of where they stand on the spectrum oppose laws that tilt things in favour of any party.

  4. We have included your post in our 'Around the Blogs' section at