Fair Elections Act anything but fair

Prime Minister Stephen Harper might give a thought to practicing what he preaches at home.

Instead of swanning around in foreign countries defending democracy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper might give a thought to practicing what he preaches at home. Harper critics continually carp about his high-handed way of governing, but his proposed Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23) is drawing fire from friend and foe alike.

As political columnist Andrew Coyne put  it, there is not only almost universal expert opposition to the bill, there is a widely held suspicion that far from merely flawed, it is expressly designed to tilt the next election in the Conservatives’ favour.

As might be expected, watchdog groups such as the Council of Canadians, LeadNow.ca,  civil liberties organizations and Opposition parties are having fits over the bill, but Mr. Coyne’s critique, which appeared in the Vancouver Sun and the National Post,  comes from a different direction. It echoes what present and former Canadian and provincial elections officials and newspaper editorials are saying, that the Bill is a threat to democracy.

Some 160 Canadian university professors have voiced alarm, and in a letter to The Globe and Mail, 19 academic experts from seven countries (including the UK and USA) said the Harper bill would to be deeply damaging for electoral integrity within Canada, as well as providing an example which, if copied elsewhere, may potentially harm international standards of electoral rights around the world. The critics say that along with undermining the integrity of our electoral process, the bill would muzzle Elections Canada, reduce voting rights, expand the role of money in politics and foster partisan bias in election administration. The expert opinions plus numerous citizens’ rallies across the country add up to unprecedented opposition to the Fair Elections Act, but my guess is that Mr. Harper will barge ahead and ram it through Parliament.

I hope I’m wrong, but what does he have to lose?

Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.