Does the PM Dream of Election Cheats?
The most essential part of a democracy is the franchise
By Ryan Hurley
“Richard Nixon has never been one of my favorite people anyway. For years I’ve regarded his existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad. The Nixon I remembered was absolutely humorless; I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.” – Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
The most venerable Dr. Thompson could just as easily be talking about the person who now runs our own country with an air of banal supremacy. Stephen Harper might well have reason to shed his stifled demeanour and have a little chuckle after Bill C-23 is passed. Maybe even hug a kitten or two? Perhaps even sing a rendition of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for parliament?
I doubt it.
In retrospect, this comparison is a bit offensive to the memory of Mr. Nixon. Tricky Dicky at least possessed some human qualities like compassion and regret. He even signed an addendum to the Voting Rights Act, which, although it was part of a scheme to alienate southern whites from the Democrats, did continue at least some of the provisions from the earlier act. Mr. Harper has no time for such trivialities; there are important things like income splitting to be achieved.
Think of all the wives on the Bridle Path who can’t afford the latest Porsche. Some might not even be able to put that new addition on the cottage in Muskoka . . . a national travesty.
At least they know their place is in the private sphere, unlike all these uppity downtown women, trying to juggle children and a career. Who do they think they are?
I’m getting sidetracked.
It isn’t just highway robbery of the public coffers that I am here to pontificate to you about today. It is something much more sacred than that—the franchise. I’m not talking about Tim Hortons either. A lot of us take for granted that we live in a democracy. At least for the time being.
Sure, undesirables like me are given a voice because of freedom of speech, but there are also some upsides to this whole representation thing. We all know the Churchill cliché: democracy has many shortcomings but it is the best system of government available.
The most essential part of a democracy is the franchise. Certain groups were for a long time excluded from that right as they were viewed as either incapable or undeserving of the vote. You know—poor people, women, people born with the wrong skin colour, or people raised in the wrong church. At one point it was only white male Protestants who held property that were able to cast a ballot. Only after years of struggle have we advanced to a point where almost everyone is able to vote. The Conservatives want to take that away.
The Fair Elections Act will eliminate the ability of officials at Elections Canada to talk to the public about things like the process of elections. It will also increase the limit on donations from private individuals and companies to political parties, and provide more legal loopholes to encourage corruption in campaign spending. These changes, however, seem almost inconsequential compared to the most egregious provisions of the act.
The act proposes to end the process of vouching.
“What is this?” you might ask. I wondered the same thing myself, having always presented my driver’s licence and proof of residence to the nice old ladies at the polling station. I didn’t ever consider that some people might be unable to do so.
Vouching is the process by which one elector may vouch for another who is unable to provide ID. No, it is not as simple as someone saying, “Don’t worry, he’s cool” to an Elections Canada official. In fact, meticulous records are taken of every person who vouches or is vouched for. Allegations by Pierre Poilievre—the Minister of Democratic Reform and Mini-Me to Steven Harper’s Dr. Evil—that the system is grossly abused are unfounded. Harry Neufeld, the very man responsible for the reports cited by Poilievre, has publicly come out against Bill C-23. He says that it will not serve to make the process more efficient or fair, rather, will just disenfranchise some of the most vulnerable groups within our society.
The Fair Elections Act is reminiscent of tactics used in the American south, before the civil rights era, to prevent blacks and poor whites from voting. You can’t just ban people you don’t like from voting anymore, but you can make it really hard for them to do so, effectively disenfranchising them. Another of the perverted ironies of neo-liberal systems of government.
The act also plans to do away with voter identification cards, which also help those people who are unable to prove their residence, and are a valuable tool for election workers.
Who will this disenfranchise?
Students, First Nations people, people in the lower income brackets and the disabled. In other words, people who don’t generally vote Conservative.
This act is an incarnation of the Machiavellian manipulation of the democratic system by Harper’s government. Steven Harper is not just an ideological adversary; a real Conservative would consider the franchise a sacred right.
He is something much more dangerous. Under his rule, in a system he once disparaged as a “benign dictatorship,” I have seen many changes that I have disagreed with on a political level.
This is not one of those. This issue is a human one. Voting rights don’t belong to the left or the right—they belong to all of us. The group Democracy Watch, a strictly non-partisan organization, has started a campaign against the act, as have the Liberals and the NDP. These will likely do nothing. The Supreme Court might also have something to say about it, but don’t keep your fingers crossed.
The only thing we can do now is educate people on how to vote. This process will be a lot harder as Elections Canada is unable to participate. So talk to your neighbours, friends and co-workers, not to push your political beliefs, whatever they may be, but to let them know how to vote. There are tons of great resources on the Internet concerning this—just google them. Stephen Harper operates on the assumption that most people in the public are simply talking apes, unable or unwilling to participate in the democratic process, and in need of guidance from their paternal superiors.
Let’s prove him wrong. Let’s make the joke on him in 2015.