In 2014 the Harper Government passed the Fair Elections Act (FEA). It modified the Canada Elections Act (Act), our existing legislation on how our elections are conducted and run. Before we go into Harper’s modifications, let’s quickly discuss who is allowed to vote and what your voting rights are.
If you are a Canadian citizen and over the age of 18, you are allowed to vote in Canada’s elections.
You need one or two pieces ID, one of which has to be issued by the Canadian Government i.e. Medicare Card or passport, and have your name, photo, and address on it. If you don’t have any ID with your current address on it, you can show two pieces of ID with your name and have someone whose name and address are confirmed at the same polling station take an oath in writing attesting to your current address.
Please note: the voter information card you get in the mail is no longer considered a proof of address and no longer acceptable as one of your two pieces of ID.
For more information, check out Elections Canada’s website.
Those not allowed to vote include the Chief Electoral Officer (the Officer), the head of Elections Canada in charge of making sure elections run smoothly and fairly, and his assistant.
If you are currently imprisoned in a correctional institution for more than two years, you can’t vote either.
All that said, let’s tackle some of the new rules imposed through the Fair Elections Act.
Not Actually Fair
Despite its title, the FEA isn’t actually fair. It doesn’t guarantee or encourage fairness in our elections. It only ups the costs of Elections Canada by creating new positions and committees in order to give Canadians the illusion of fairness.
Take the new Advisory Committee of Political Parties (the Committee) created by article 21.1 of the now modified Act. Its role is to advise the Chief Electoral Officer “on matters relating to elections and political financing.”
The committee consists of the Chief Electoral Officer and two representatives of each registered political party chosen by the party leaders. It has to meet at least once a year and is presided over by the Officer.
At first glance this committee seems like a great idea, after all, it gives registered political parties a say in how elections are run, right?
According to article 21.1 (3), none of the Committee’s recommendations are actually binding on the Chief Electoral Officer. That means that the Committee’s existence is purely symbolic, and the Officer can disregard its advice if he or she chooses.
Then there’s the whole advertising issue. There has been a lot of anger regarding the Fair Elections Act’s modification to the Officer’s advertising rights.
In the past, the Chief Electoral Officer could use ads to encourage people to the polls. Under the new rules, the Officer’s advertising capabilities are limited to ads regarding how to become a candidate, how to be added to the list of electors, how voters can establish their identity and address at the polls, and how elections officials can assist the disabled on election day.
There is also Part 16.1 dealing with calls to voters. Calling campaigns are an effective tool used by candidates and their parties for fundraising, increasing voter awareness, and getting people to the polls. Since phone lines can be costly, it makes perfect sense for political parties to negotiate agreements with telecommunications service providers in order to limit costs.
At first glance, the modifications to the Act make sense for according to the new rules under the FEA, these agreements can only be entered into by a registered party or candidate or, if the person is an unregistered third party, they do so under their own name. They also have to inform the service provider that the contract is for calling voters. The problem arises with all subsequent actions required under this part of the Act.
Service providers have to file registration with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for every group for which they have a contract for voter contact calling services, and they have to do it within 48 hours after the first call is to a voter is made.
They also – under article 348.16 of the modified Act – have to get a copy of every phone script used to make live and automated voice calls to voters. The political parties in agreements with these service providers have to not only keep records of their phone scripts, automated and live, they also have to keep records of every single date the scripts were used!
From a logistical standpoint, these requirements are absurd. Anyone who’s volunteered for a political party knows that calling campaigns have to be run as quickly and efficiently as possible and that any reasonable hours prior to polling day are opportunities to get in touch with voters.
One could argue that these rules ensure that the public knows exactly what is being said to voters on the phone during the election. However, laws should always be applied with a degree of reasonability in mind, and having to track every single day a phone script is used seems more like a political tool to limit parties’ abilities to get in touch with voters by adding new, tedious tasks to their overtaxed schedules. This is especially silly when the CRTC already has copies of these scripts and records of the days they were used.
The elections are a ‘coming and with parties using wedge issues to obscure their actual plans for our future government, it is imperative that we all go to the polls. We need to make sure we actually can vote by carrying the correct documents and a will to vote out governments that increase our taxes via unnecessary tedium.