"We're talking about the rules for a federal general election," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said during question period on February 24. "That's the foundation of our democracy. That's what they're trying to cheat on."
Far from making Canadian federal elections more fair, Bill C-23 – which Canada's Chief Electoral Officer has called "affront to democracy" – will likely disenfranchise large groups of voters while preventing the Commissioner of Elections from making full investigations into future cases of vote fraud.
Craig Scott, the Official Opposition Critic for Democratic and Parliamentary Reform, said Bill C-23 is "a concerted attempt to disenfranchise those with lower incomes or more transient lives with US-style voter suppression tactics".
Opposition groups state that C-23 violates Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives every Canadian citizen the right to vote. Jessica McCormick, National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, states the bill "aims to suppress the vote of groups that may not vote Conservative including students, Indigenous people, seniors, and people on low-incomes by eliminating the vouching system". The "vouching" system allows people who may not possess the necessary documentation to cast their vote if they go to their polling station with a friend or neighbour. Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, believes at least 100,000 Canadians would be disenfranchised if the vouching system is trashed.
While the Conservatives claim C-23 will "increase democracy", it would actually prohibit Mayrand from engaging in any public education or democratic outreach to groups that are less likely to vote. It would also eliminate Elections Canada's civics-outreach Student Vote Program.
After committing widespread voter suppression and fraud during the 2011 election, the Conservatives want to deny Elections Canada the power to compel testimony in fraud cases. C-23 would also place the office of the Commissioner of Elections Canada under the Director of Public Prosecutions, putting the agency's independent and non-partisan investigative powers under political party control.
While C-23 would prevent the commissioner of Canada elections from revealing that any investigation is under way, it would also give any member being investigated notification of such investigation, an unnecessary heads-up warning.
The Conservatives drafted Bill C-23 without any meaningful discussions with Elections Canada. The Tories' confrontational, resentful, and vindictive attitude towards Election Canada has been well-documented; as far back as 2000, Harper referred to EC officials as "jackasses".
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch says the bill also "hikes donation limits, removes the ban on unlimited secret gifts to election candidates, and allows banks to make unlimited loans to candidates".
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stated that "it's unprecedented that a government would use its majority to shut down debate on fundamental changes to Canada's election law".
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said, "if we're willing to send international observers to see how the elections in Ukraine are going, we should probably be willing to send people across this country to look how our elections are doing here".
Harper's hostility to democracy is a sign of weakness. His pro-war, anti-environment, austerity-driven agenda does not have the support of the majority of people — so he has to resort to suppressing votes in order to get elected. This is masked by the fact that the Liberals share the Conservatives agenda and the NDP leadership has not provided an alternative. But movements across the country — against pipelines and in support of postal workers — can challenge Harper's agenda and expose the democratic deficit driving his voter suppression.
This article was written for Socialist Worker (Canada).