Conservatives go halfway to making the Fair Elections Act actually fair

Conservatives go halfway to making the Fair Elections Act actually fair
Posted on April 30, 2014 | Democracy Watch | Written on April 30, 2014
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Op-Ed

The federal Conservatives have backed off on some unfair measures in their proposed so-called "Fair Elections Act" (Bill C-23) but they are not proposing enough changes to make the bill, or federal elections, actually fair.

They are proposing to allow one voter to vouch for one other voter’s address. But they should also make it legal to use the Election Canada voter registration card as voter ID.

They also won’t extend the unethical power of the ruling party to appoint even more of the election workers it wants. But, to ensure polling stations are run fairly, Elections Canada should be empowered to appoint ALL election workers.

The Conservatives will also remove the loophole in Bill C-23 that meant the amount parties spend on “fundraising” from recent donors would not count toward their election spending total.

And, they propose changes to clarify that the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) will not be “muzzled” or “gagged”, including allowing him to send complaints to the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

They still want to continue to limit Elections Canada to providing the public only with information about how to vote or become a candidate but they will also clarify that it can do this through advertising and in-school and other voter education programs.

Finally, the Conservatives will also make the minor change of requiring scripts and recordings of robocalls and other communications with voters to be kept by callers for three years instead of just one.

To really be effective however, scripts and recordings and other key documents (such as spending and donation receipts) should be required to be filed with election watchdogs to make it easy for them to check compliance with all rules. Also, whistleblowers should be given a financial reward if they disclose evidence that leads to a conviction.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives continue to ignore other key problems with the bill. The Commissioner has in the past refused to disclose most of his rulings on more than 3,000 complaints since 1997. Bill C-23 will require him and the Director of Public Prosecutions to keep all rulings and investigation results secret. To ensure they are enforcing the law properly, they must be required to disclose all rulings (like the Commissioner did last week with his ruling on complaints about fraud robocalls).

The bill will also still hike the annual donation limit for individuals making it easier for businesses and other organizations to funnel illegal donations through their executives and employees, as happened in Quebec for decades.

And it will still allow some candidates to donate much more to their campaigns (up to $25,000), and banks to loan unlimited amounts to candidates. Both these undemocratic measures will only benefit wealthy candidates.

To democratize the federal political finance system, donation and loan limits should be lowered to about $100-200 annually (as Quebec did recently); all donations and gifts must be disclosed, and the per-vote annual funding system for parties should be restored to give them a democratic base of funding.

Bill C-23 also doesn’t correct other current unfair and undemocratic flaws in the federal elections system.

We need an honesty-in-politics law to ensure political misleaders can’t bait voters with false election promises.

The federal election voting system should be changed to ensure the number of politicians each political party elects is based on the voter support it receives, and to allow voters to vote “none of the above” and also to actually fix election dates for every four years (unless a vote of non-confidence occurs earlier).

Nomination races should be regulated to ensure party leaders can’t appoint or reject candidates (other than on grounds of “good character”) and Elections Canada should be empowered to run these races.

So while the Conservatives have been forced to propose some key changes to the so-called Fair Elections Act, if they don’t do more it's fair to say that voters across Canada will still be fairly concerned that the Conservatives aren't playing fair, and that it will be fair game for voters not to give the Conservatives a fair shake when they vote in the next election.

Duff Conacher is the co-founder of Democracy Watch, Canada’s leading democratic reform organization since 1993. Democracy Watch has a campaign to make the Fair Elections Act, and federal elections, actually fair.

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