More voices speak-out against the Fair Elections Act: Do Canadians care?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Another day, another prominent voice is speaking out against the Conservative Party's Fair Elections Act.

The Fair Elections Act — Bil C-23 — will, among other things, raise the limits on political donations, impose tougher penalties on those who break election rules, separate the administration of elections from the enforcement of election law, reduce Elections Canada's public information activities and eliminate 'vouching' for voters who lack proper identification at the ballot box.

The last two measures have generated intense criticism from the opposition parties, the Assembly of First Nations, Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, former federal chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and chief electoral officers in British Columbia, Ontario and the Northwest Territories.

On Thursday, it was former Auditor General Sheila Fraser's 'turn' to attack the bill suggesting that it could disenfranchise thousands of voters.

"Elections are the base of our democracy and if we do not have truly a fair electoral process and one that can be managed well by a truly independent body, it really is an attack on our democracy and we should all be concerned about that," Fraser, the women who exposed the Liberal sponsorship scandal, told the Canadian Press.

"When you look at the people who may not be able to vote, when you look at the limitations that are being put on the chief electoral officer, when you see the difficulties, just the operational difficulties that are going to be created in all this, I think it's going to be very difficult to have a fair, a truly fair, election."

[ Related: Change it or drop it, elections expert says of Conservative electoral reform act ]

The NDP made tried to make some hay with Fraser's assessment during Question Period on Thursday.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing from the Minister of Democratic Reform ignoring the urgent warning of Ms. Sheila Fraser," NDP MP Alexandrine Latendresse said.

"Especially coming from someone who used the [reports] of the former auditor general 65 times in this House to criticize the Liberals. So if I understand the minister's logic, when Sheila Fraser exposes Liberal scheming, she's perfectly credible, but when she denounces the Conservative's electoral deform, she's all of the sudden not reliable?"

Democratic reform minister Pierre Poilievre responded with this.

"We are aware of Elections Canada's views on these issues, we just happen to disagree with the agency," he said.

"In a democracy, we have a right to that.

"[Canadians] believe that it is reasonable to expect that somebody bring one of 39 pieces of identity when they go to vote. These are reasonable common sense changes that we will continue to support."

[ More Politics: With Eve Adams, Prime Minister Harper has no choice but to act swiftly ]

Despite all the debate about the Bill in the House of Commons and in the media, it seems, however, that most Canadians aren't paying attention. According to a recent Abacus Data survey, the vast majority of Canadians expect the Act will have no real effect. When asked whether the Fair Elections Act would improve election fairness, eighteen percent per cent of respondents said they expect more fairness, 23 per cent said less fairness, and 59 per cent expect no impact.

"This bill has been controversial within the House of Commons and has generated criticism from many political scientists and editorialists. To date, the public seems neither enthusiastic about the bill nor hostile towards it," Abacus Data Chairman Bruce Anderson wrote as part of a press release accompanying the survey.

"For the political capital the government is investing in the FEA, there is little apparent appreciation for the policy, even among the party’s base supporters. At the same time, for the effort expended by opposition parties, so far, there is also little to show. Most people don’t seem to feel this initiative was needed, and few think it will make much of a difference in how elections are conducted in Canada."

That probably bodes well for Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives.

(Photos courtesy CBC, the Canadian Press)

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