March 11, 2014

Becoming Someone They Were Fighting Against

At one point does someone who constantly fought against a negative image becomes that very image? This description applies to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. While in opposition before the 2006 election, he called out the Liberals under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin for scandals involving the federal sponsorship program. He campaigned on transparency and accountability, which lead him to introduce the Accountability Act and the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer soon after taking office. Given these measures, one may think Harper would be on his way to cleaning up Ottawa.
Fast forward eight years and a new reality emerged in Canada. Since winning a majority government in 2011, Harper used his majority to ram through legislation which goes against his original campaign pledges; the most recent of which is Pierre Poilievre's "Fair Elections Act" or Bill C-23.[1] While the bill contains provisions to crack down on unauthorized robocalls (used by the Conservative party), as well as allowing more days of advance voting and levying stiffer fines for election violations, there are other changes that make C-23 anything but fair. These include the following:

Increased federal donation limits – Currently, Canadians are allowed to donate up to $1 200 to federal political parties, candidates, and leadership contestants. C-23 increases this limit to $1 500 and by $25 per year thereafter. Strict donation limits are needed to reduce the influence of wealthy donors on politics, which is evident in the United States where over $2 billion was spent on the 2012 presidential election.[2]
Exempting fundraising expenses from campaign spending limits – Given many forms of campaign literature contain fundraising elements, this sets a dangerous precedent for distinguishing campaign from fundraising expenses, which can open the doors to more fraudulent activities.
Banning voter vouching and voter ID cards – Vouching is a practice where voters without a valid form of identification can be attested of their eligibility to vote by another voter with valid identification. By banning this and voter ID cards, it will become more difficult for students, seniors, and aboriginal citizens to vote.
Reduce ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct investigations – In spite of voter fraud such as the robocall scandal, C-23 weakens the Chief Electoral Officer’s role and places the responsibility of investigating electoral fraud in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Shouldn’t the right course of action be to expand these powers?
Preventing Elections Canada from promoting voter turnout – While all political parties launch get out the vote campaigns on election day, they are only allowed to reach their confirmed supporters. For undecided voters, it is necessary for an impartial party such as Elections Canada to launch these campaigns and inform voters where to vote. There is no valid reason for this change except to further reduce voter turnout.

To add insult to injury, the federal NDP called out the Harper government for shutting down debate on C-23 upon introduction of the bill and at the committee stage. They claimed this was the 59th time debate was shut down by this government, which is considerably more than any other government in Canadian history.[3] The practice of shutting down debate also happened with the 2012 and 2013 omnibus budget bills, which contained hundreds of pages of legislation that were irrelevant to the budget such as gutting environmental legislation, cutting CBC funding, and increasing the Old Age Security eligibility age to 67. The federal Liberals voiced similar concerns and even former Reform party leader Preston Manning was critical of C-23.

Given these abuses of power, no wonder why so many Canadians feel disenfranchised by the political process. However, this creates a vicious cycle, where low voter turnout enables the election of unwanted leaders, which leads to unwanted legislation, which in turn leads to even lower voter turnout. This is why Canadians need to reverse course by not only voting, but to fight unwanted legislation by contacting their elected officials, writing letters to the editor, and organizing or participating in rallies. If the Québec student movement could reverse tuition fee hikes in 2012 via prolonged mobilization, why can’t the rest of Canada do the same thing with C-23? Civic engagement is the only way elected officials can be held accountable for their actions.

I will close this off with a related Rick Mercer Rant.
Stay consistent!
Rob Z (e-mail)



[1] http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6404810&Language=E&Mode=1
[2] Stephen Braun and Jack Gillum. Huffington Post. “2012 Presidential Election Cost Hits $2 Billion Mark.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/2012-presidential-election-cost_n_2254138.html
[3] New Democratic Party of Canada. “Conservatives move shut down debate, again.” http://www.ndp.ca/news/conservatives-move-shut-down-debate-again-time-to-try-and-disrupt-testimony-they-dont-committee

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