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Bill C-23 sparks concerns

Posted on April 2, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

Bill C-23, the federal government’s proposed Fair Elections Act that is designed to overhaul the existing Elections Act, has come under fire from numerous critics. The bill’s intent — to address concerns about election fraud — is a noble one. The country’s chief electoral officer had been urging electoral reforms for years.

But some of the critics’ concerns have merit, too, particularly those involving the proposed removal of “vouching” at the polling stations. That’s the process which enables someone who doesn’t have proper residency identification to still vote by having someone vouch for them.

Critics fear that removing the provision will effectively take the right to vote away from thousands of Canadians, particularly students, First Nations citizens on reserves and elderly residents of long-term care facilities.

Results of a poll released in March indicated the majority of Canadians surveyed were opposed to central aspects of what the Council of Canadians is calling the “Unfair Elections Act.” The telephone poll conducted by EKOS Research found that 70 per cent of respondents said they felt less supportive of the act because of plans to get rid of Elections Canada’s ability to publicly report on voter complaints it receives. Sixty-three per cent were concerned about the legislation’s forbidding of Elections Canada from engaging in research and education about democracy in Canada, and 61 per cent had concerns about the proposed elimination of the voucher system, which is used by more than 100,000 people.

Critics suggest that the proposed legislation really isn’t going to provide much help in preventing abuses of the electoral process, which is one of the primary reasons for overhauling the Elections Act.

An article in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, contributed by a group of six writers with expertise in political affairs, carried the headline, “Criticism of Elections Act is legitimate, and should not be brushed off.”

On the other side of the coin, Pierre Poilievre, the federal Minister of State for Democratic Reform, defended the proposed new act in another Globe and Mail article published Monday. On the matter of the vouching system, he pointed out there are inherent risks with the system and wrote, “the safeguards against these risks were violated in 50,735 cases (42 per cent of the time) in the 2011 election, according to Elections Canada’s own compliance report.”

The Council of Canadians noted the EKOS survey found that only 27 per cent of Canadians are familiar with the act, “reinforcing the need for cross-country public hearings.” That might not be a bad idea. The loud criticism of the proposed act indicates Canadians have some very real concerns about the legislation, and if those concerns are valid, the federal government, if it is indeed focused on producing an Elections Act that is truly fair, needs to address them. If it is a good piece of legislation, the government needs to convince Canadians.

Either way, this overhaul of the Elections Act needs to allay Canadians’ fears so we can all be assured that the results will truly enhance the democratic process, not hurt it.

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