On February 4, 2014, Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre introduced the Fair Elections Act: an act to ensure that Canadians enjoy free, fair, and open elections. It is an act designed to make sure that Canadians never have to suffer through another scandal-plagued election like the one we had in 2011. And, as far as acts go, it is pretty straightforward.
The Act makes it harder to vote by requiring more pieces of identification and ending the process of vouching for someone who does not have identification. These reforms are timely and appropriate. It is well established that too many Canadians vote in federal elections, so this Act will do its best to reduce the number of people who can cast a ballot.
The Act also allows MPs accused of improperly reporting expenses to continue sitting and voting in the House. The Canada Elections Act used to forbid such an MP from sitting or voting in the House until the MP fixed the improper expense claim. But that law will stand no longer. Instead, famous law-abiding Conservatives like Peter Penashue, Shelly Glover, and Dean Del Mastro will receive the benefit of the doubt. And why shouldn’t they? The Minister of Democratic Reform explained the change: “Now remember, the removal of a democratically elected MP reverses the decision of tens of thousands of voters.” It was clear that the Minister was unsure about what the term democratically elected actually meant. No bother, his Act will make the rules “tough, predictable, and easy to follow”, so even the most incompetent public official can’t mess up.
Along with limiting the Chief Electoral Officer’s role (which is by no means a retaliatory strike against an official who repeatedly bothered the Conservatives), the Act also targeted robocalls. Rarely addressed in public circles prior to 2011, robocalls became a hot button issue when a Federal Court judge confirmed that an unknown person or group used the Conservative Party’s database during the 2011 election to target non-Conservative voters with robotic phone calls that impersonated Elections Canada, and directed voters to the wrong polling stations. This was a systematic attempt at voter suppression, and it called for attention.
The Conservatives heard the call, and responded with concrete action. The Act establishes a robocalls registry for all automated calls made by political parties. Furthermore, it requires that all parties submit a recording of each of their calls to the registry. This is the perfect response. In 2011, the unknown offenders, not officially tied to a political party, were able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity…but no more! Now the long, flabby arm of the law will somehow force them to declare themselves to the authorities. No need for further discussion on this front – problem solved.
This underlines the Conservative tradition of effective problem-solving. Those unfamiliar with parliamentary history may not be aware that the registry is a long cherished Conservative technique for dealing with crime. As Ryan Leef, Conservative MP for Yukon, said of the long gun registry in February 2012: “Frankly, for the last 17 years, not one person has convinced me that the long gun registry has ever stopped a single crime or saved a single life.” Speaking about how criminals view the registry, Leef said, “They enjoy the freedom to operate outside of the law and have all the rights and protections of the law.” He concluded in the House that the long gun registry was “a database that did nothing”. In this regard, the Conservatives deserve credit for sticking to their guns with the Fair Elections Act. The robocalls registry will do exactly what they want it to do: nothing.
This government deserves an excessively firm pat on the back. It does what no government before it has had the stones to do. It approaches a serious issue with a half-baked plan to decrease voter turnout, keeps its law-breaking MPs in office, and creates a database to store the robocalls that parties pledge not to use on election day. It is action where it hurts and inaction where it counts. That’s what we get from the guy we elected who now serves as Minister of Democratic Reform. Come on, even famous Canadian softballer Evan Solomon made him look silly on Power and Politics. Well played Mr. Harper, well played.
Update March 4th: Dipper David Christopherson spent the day filibustering the Fair Elections Act.