The Fair Elections Act Again: On Political Oversight of Polling Stations

I just sent the following email to every single senator, except for four (one with no email, and Barizeau, Wallin, and Duffy). Since I addressed each by name, that mean I actually sent several dozen emails, rather than one merely CC-d to them all.

Dear Senator,

I am writing about the proposed Fair Elections Act that the Conservative Party is pushing through both chambers of government right now. I believe, as with Sheila Fraser and many respected public servants and others, that this bill is nothing short of an attack on Canadian democracy.

Although the government has removed one of the two worst aspects of the bill–the elimination of vouching, which would have had the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of votes–it has just reinstated the very worst provision, one that would allow incumbent political parties to choose central poll supervisors (“Fair Elections Act back on fast track after 45 amendments submitted“).

Elections in Canada until now have been, in the main, positive models for other countries in the world that are less democratic. Allowing motivated political hacks to oversee the polling stations of their ridings removes not only the appearance of fairness, but confidence in the electoral process and its results. This move greatly weakens Elections Canada, and will lead to corruption within the very system of elections by which our country is governed.

Senator, I am asking you to vote this bad, bad bill down in its entirety. Failing this, I would ask you to vote down this specific provision and all others that would make the practice of our elections less fair.

In my opinion, this entire bill deserves to die, and the Harper Government has lost the mandate of the people. Now is the time for the Senate–known, with some justification, as a chamber of cronyism and patronage–to live up to its potential as the chamber of “sober second thought.” Resist the the urge coming from the PMO to ram this thoughtlessly-written bill through into law. Earn your keep; don’t let the Prime Minister use you after trying to destroy the very office of the Senate. The so-called “Fair Elections Act” is nothing short of a disgrace to our government (and to the history and tradition of the Conservative Party). Even worse, this bill is an attack on the fabric of our country as a democracy. Please vote it down and resist it at every level.

Thank you very much for your consideration of this matter.

Yours Sincerely,
N. etc.

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Updated: Defeat? (Was titled: Victory! The Fair Elections Act will now really be fair: A stunning government reversal)

UPDATE: The Globe and Mail has just posted an article that says that one of the two most important changes the government made to its bill (see my second point below), has now disappeared. This means that the election will be overseen by partisans at the level of the individual polling station, with the Tories to benefit and rig the next election if they want to.

Original post follows: I was delighted today to read that the government is waiving the white flag on the so-called Fair Elections Act. The improvements relate to the most contentious provisions of the bill:

  • vouching will still be allowed. It just won’t be called “vouching.”
  • Incumbent parties in ridings will not be able to appoint poll supervisors. Elections Canada will still have this responsibility.
  • The head of Elections Canada will no longer be muzzled regarding any political skulduggery that his office uncovers on the part of the various political parties of Canada.

These are the most important of the improvements. The act still, in my opinion, does more harm than good, but with these three dangerous parts now to be omitted, I believe that the next election may be “fair” after all. As the Globe and Mail put it:

But after months of promising to stay the course, the government has finally made a sharp turn. Not quite 180 degrees, but close. Better late than never.

I’d like to think that my letters to the government were among the many that helped the PMO to change course. I’ll make it official, then: Stephen Harper is no longer Chancellor Palpatine…and I hope he has given up trying to become Emperor. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of government he could be doing: developing a national housing strategy, for starters. I’d also like to see him making investments in energy sources other than oil. Much good work could be accomplished by this government if it would actually seek to govern for the good of the entire country rather than its own narrow party base.

ADDENDUM: I am also very pleased that the Supreme Court blocked the Tory plan to get rid of the Senate. Since I hope that Thomas Mulcair will be the next Prime Minister, this may be surprising, for the NDP’s position on the Senate is abolition. But during the run-up to the PMO’s reversal on the Fair Elections Act,” I was developing a plan to write to every Senator and ask them to block the bill. And many Senators, even some Tories, were opposed to the bill, and a number of immediate changes were suggested (though not enough) by the Senate in their “sober first thought” review. (The very fact that the Senate was being forced to study the bill before it reached them–in an effort to fast-track the bill–was beginning to put up red flags in the Upper Chamber.)

It seems to me that the Senate, like the Supreme Court and Elections Canada, is a public institution that has value as a check on the tendencies of the government of the day in the House of Commons. It is not as powerful as the Supreme Court, but it is a check, or a balance–though one based on the model of the British House of Lords rather than on the more famous Senate in Washington, DC. It undoubtedly is a place for cronyism and patronage appointments, but I think the ideal of the chamber as one of “sober second thought” is a worthwhile one. Even if it does not live up to its potential, the Senate can still be useful.

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The Fair Elections Act is an attack on Canadian Democracy

I just emailed the PMO again on the proposed Fair Elections Act, but forgot to save my text. In a nutshell, I am astonished to read of the government’s attacking of Sheila Fraser, and appalled (but not surprised) to see its attacks on Marc Mayrand. I agree with Sheila Fraser and Andrew Coyne that the so-called Fair Elections Act is an attack on democracy.

I believe that somehow while in office, Stephen Harper has somehow lost his way. He has become the very thing he criticized so well when we was in Opposition. The corruption, lack of oversight, use of omnibus bills and fast-track procedures, together with these attacks on the fundamental principles of democracy–it’s all dangerously alarming and very far from what good governance should be.

Mr. Harper was opposed and vilified early on, when he shouldn’t have been. The consequence of this is that now, when his government should be vilified and vigorously opposed, people may be apathetic. If the next election is fair at all–and that is a significant if, given the proposed legislation–I hope the Canadian public turns his party out of office.

I have often written that I have never considered our Prime Minister to be Darth Vader. With the Fair Elections Act, I now believe him to be much worse: he’s Chancellor Palpatine. If you don’t want a Star Wars metaphor, I’ll give you a real-world one: he’s got far more in common with the early Vladimir Putin than he should have.

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Cherry Blossoms on W. 22nd Ave. in Vancouver, BC

Cherry Blossoms 2014 on West 22nd Ave. in Vancouver 4

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Cherry Blossoms budding on W. 22nd Ave. in Vancouver, BC

Cherry Blossoms 2014 on West 22nd Ave in Vancouver 5b

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Cherry Blossom Cluster on West 22nd Ave. in Vancouver, BC

Cherry Blossom cluster March 2014

Little pink fingers
Reach for the white bright sun with
Sticky sugar skin

The second week of my annual hanami took place last Sunday, when I went with my family to Burrard Station in downtown Vancouver, and then to West 16th between Granville and Arbutus, and then after to West 22nd (west of Arbutus) to take in the most gorgeous and amazing cherry blossoms. My pictures really don’t do them justice, but I’ll be posting a few here in the next few days.

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Elections Act follow-up: a form-letter from the PMO, and my response

My previous post dealt with the Elections Act and why the government should let its most contentious bill die a quick death. Shortly after writing my letter, I received this response:

On behalf of the Prime Minister, thank you for your correspondence regarding the Fair Elections Act. We appreciated the opportunity to review your comments.

Our Government is strongly committed to reforming Canada’s elections laws to uphold the integrity of the voting system. The Fair Elections Act will ensure our laws are tough, clear and easy to follow. These necessary changes will be implemented prior to the next federal election.

This legislation is the result of consultations with Elections Canada, parliamentarians, think tanks and other relevant groups. It will implement 38 of the Chief Electoral Officer’s past recommendations. Most importantly, it will make it much more difficult to violate elections laws and put the focus back on honest people exercising their franchise in our democracy.

Some of the highlights of the Fair Elections Act include:

- Protecting voters from rogue calls with a mandatory public registry for mass calling, prison time for impersonating elections officials, and increased penalties.

- Giving more independence to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which is the enforcement wing of Elections Canada, allowing them control over their staff and investigations, empowering them to seek tougher penalties for existing electoral offences, and providing more than a dozen new offences to combat big money, rogue calls and fraudulent voting.

- Cracking down on voter fraud.

- Making the rules for elections clear, predictable and easier to follow.

- Banning the use of loans that are used to evade donation rules.

- Repealing the ban on reporting election results as they become known across the country, upholding free speech.

- Providing better customer service to voters, and establishing an extra day of polling.

We have noted your specific concerns with respect to vouching procedure changes. These reforms are necessary in light of Elections Canada studies that demonstrate mass irregularities in vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on Voter Information Cards. While vouching will no longer be permitted, voters will have 39 authorized ID forms to utilize when proving identity and residence. Elections Canada will communicate clearly to voters what form of ID are accepted before they head to the polls.

For more detailed information on each of these measures, we invite you to visit the following link:

Once again, thank you for taking the time to share your views on this important legislation.


[name redacted]
Assistant to the Prime Minister

Here is my response:

Dear Honorable Prime Minister (and [name redacted]),

I would like to thank you for your office’s response to my original letter on the subject of the proposed Elections Act. I am grateful that you took the time to write it and to note one of my two primary criticisms of this bill (vouching).

I remain very much dismayed, though, by the willful blindness, if not outright deceitfulness demonstrated by your government in communicating with both me specifically and the public in regards to some aspects of this bill, particularly as regards the matter of vouching. For instance, your office has written:

“These reforms are necessary in light of Elections Canada studies that demonstrate mass irregularities in vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on Voter Information Cards.”

Unfortunately, Elections Canada has not said anything about “mass irregularities in vouching.” Indeed, the author of the report cited by Minister Poilievre in this regard has specifically said of the Minister: “I think any fair-minded person who reads that report would come to the conclusion that he has not been fair in his assessment of my findings” (CBC News, “Pierre Poilievre ‘selectively’ reading election report, author says“). Furthermore, the Globe and Mail has noted how the Government is grossly misrepresenting the positions of several experts (“Fair Elections Act: If evidence voted, this bill would die“). There was no “mass irregularity” at all connected with vouching in the last election. Mr. Prime Minister, you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Furthermore, your office did not at all acknowledge my other point regarding the proposed Elections Act: namely, how it greatly weakens both the mandate and the power of Elections Canada. The Elections Act is adamantly opposed by the non-partisan head of Elections Canada and by pretty much everyone connected with the administration of our elections. It is supported only by your own political party. Why?

Finally, I now see that you are trying to rush this bill through not only the House of Commons, but the Senate, too. This (together with your singularly poor choice of Senators) shows that you do not appreciate the value of the upper chamber as one of “sober second thought.” In forcing this bill too quickly through the Senate, you are denying Canadians what we are paying for: a governmental body that is less hyper-partisan and more careful in its examination of proposed laws than the House of Commons.

I believe that the pursuit of knocking off as many as half a million potential unfriendly votes has clouded your judgment and your ethics–and I say this as someone who does not believe you are the Parliamentary equivalent of Darth Vader. (For example, I have noted before your steady hand at the helm of our economy during the recent global economic crisis.) But much of what you are doing with this bill is very wrong. Please put this bill to rest.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Letter to the Prime Minister on the proposed Fair Elections Act

The following is the full version of a letter I have just sent the Prime Minister:

Dear Hon. Prime Minister:

I am writing in regards to the proposed Fair Elections Act. Mr. Prime Minister, after reading extensive coverage of this proposed Act, including an excellent editorial in the Globe and Mail (“Criticism of Elections Act is legitimate, and should not be brushed off“), I am horrified by your government’s proposed legislation. The Fair Elections Act is nothing short of an attack on the practice of democracy and the primacy of the rule of law in Canada, for two reasons.

First, the bill removes the ability of many citizens to vote and ends the practice of “vouching.” I can understand how one would want voters to be intelligent and motivated enough to get proper ID in order to choose the next government, but our democracy does not specify intelligence levels necessary to vote; it is enough to be a Canadian citizen of age 19 or above. The enfrachisement of all Canadian adults is foundational to our democracy. Unfortunately, there are many cases where citizens may not have the required documents to prove who they say they are, for example, many elderly people in old folks’ homes, university students staying in other cities, First Nations on reserves, and many homeless people. It is well-known that none of these groups (with the possible exception of the elderly) are Conservative voters. Removing the rights of these voters to vote is nothing but a transparently selfish power-grab that benefits only your own political party at the expense of removing many Canadian citizens’ right to vote.

Second, the bill greatly weakens Elections Canada. The bill removes Elections Canada’s authority to encourage voting (e.g. among the young), allows incumbent parties to choose election officials, and prohibits Elections Canada from communicating with the public about its investigations into electoral skulduggery. Again, all this chiefly benefits your own party while tearing down a useful Canadian institution that guarantees the fairness of our elections.

Mr. Prime Minister, it is not only the right to vote that makes a real, functioning democracy–it is also the presence of institutions that are connected with the rule of law. Elections Canada is an essential, reliable, and correctly non-partisan institution that is necessary to our survival as a democracy. Political parties are already allowed scrutineers in the electoral process–but why give incumbents power over the election itself as your bill would do?

In short, Mr. Prime Minister, you have attacked the very state of democracy and the rule of law in Canada with this bill, and for no justifiable reasons whatsoever other than the benefit of our own political party. You should do the “right” thing and “kill this bill” (as a different Globe and Mail article put it) now.

Thank you for your consideration.

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The blossoms are coming, the blossoms are coming!

Cherry Blossoms at Burrard Station March 2014

A few days ago I went to Burrard Station, where I managed to somehow fail to take a single good picture. Despite this setback, I’m happy: Cherry Blossom time is my favourite time of year, and it’s only going to get better as the trees continue to blossom. I’ll need to try harder to get some better pictures, though.

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Vancouver Skyline from North Vancouver

Vancouver skyline from North Vancouver

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