Letter originally appearing in the March 6th, 2014 edition of the Brant News:
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have a bad record when it comes to respecting our elections laws. Now, they want to skew the next election in their favour using voter suppression tactics straight out of the U.S. Republican playbook.
The so-called “Fair Elections Act” will block tens of thousands of students, seniors, First Nations persons and low-income Canadians from proving their right to vote by eliminating the long-standing practice of vouching and the expanded use of voter ID cards.
These are all groups who tend not to vote Conservative. I – like a great number of Canadians – am very doubtful this is simply a coincidence. In the last federal election, my office received many calls from voters belonging to each group mentioned above, who already had difficulties accessing their democratic right to vote. We were able to help in those cases, but it will be much harder to do so in the future if this bill passes.
The logic behind making it more difficult for these already-marginalized populations to vote makes very little sense. Voter turnout is something we all lament needs to be increased.
At the same time, it muzzles the Chief Electoral Officer and bans Elections Canada from even promoting the right to vote. Popular, successful and inexpensive programs designed to help students register to vote, for example, will no longer be allowed. While the bill makes it harder for ordinary Canadians to vote, it will actually make it easier for big-money interests to influence our elections. The proposed legislation raises the donation limit to $1,500 and introduces loopholes to party fundraising spending – including increasing the amount candidates can spend on their own campaigns.
This move is a boon for rich candidates, but may limit access to middle and working-class Canadians, who have an equal right to represent their communities in Parliament.
After widespread voter suppression and fraud during the 2011 election, this long-awaited legislation was supposed to offer tools to crack down on abuse. Instead, Conservatives refused to enact the most effective measure to enhance investigation – giving Elections Canada the power to compel testimony. What a farce. I am thankful that NDP leader Tom Mulcair is doing his job in the House of Commons by exposing this Conservative policy for exactly what it is.
The Harper government is also refusing an NDP recommendation to hold town hall consultations on this contentious issue across Canada. What are they afraid of?
Will our local MP Phil McColeman stand up to his party and hold an open town hall on this issue? If not, then I will be happy to address it in a town hall setting. Canadians and members of our community should be heard on something as important as this. Canadians deserve better. They deserve genuine electoral reform to stop fraud, prevent big money from distorting elections and to ensure every Canadian can exercise their right to vote. Unfortunately, Stephen Harper and his team of MPs have given us the opposite. It is simply shameful.
Brant NDP Federal Candidate of Record