In his speech on the state of the conservative movement this afternoon, Preston Manning addressed the issue of democratic reform and, in so doing, recommended that the Free Elections Act be amended.
Amend the Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23, currently before the House – hopefully with all-party consent – to strengthen and expand rather than weaken the role of Elections Canada with respect to addressing the greatest challenge to the Canadian electoral system, which is not its unfairness, which you’ve got to always to be worried about, the greatest challenge to our electoral system is the steady decline in voter turnout in elections. Let’s strengthen our capacity to address that.
The prepared text includes this additional paragraph…
This legislation, which is a commendable democratic initiative, seeks to eliminate those practices – robo-calling, misuse of the vouching provision, misuse of election contributions, etc. – which discredit elections and parties associated with them. It also seeks to strengthen the enforcement of electoral law by separating that role from Elections Canada and making it the sole jurisdiction of the Independent Commissioner of Elections under the Director for Public Prosecutions. It can be improved, as I say, by strengthening rather than reducing the role of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer with respect to promotional and educational activities designed to increase voter participation in Canada’s elections.
… and this footnote explaining what amendment he would make.
Add to Section 18 (1) listing the only topics on which the Chief Electoral Officer may provide information to the public, “(f) public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public and increase voter participation.”
Pierre Poilievre seemed unmoved when I asked him about Mr. Manning’s suggestion this afternoon. Here’s some of what he had to say.
I welcome his input, he obviously has a lot of political experience in mobilizing people to participate in democracy. I think a better idea would be for the Manning institute and the Broadbent institute to actually drive up voter turnout because they’re both run by highly skilled political leaders who have inspired mass voter turnout in past elections. These practioners would be far better suited to driving turnout than a government agency. So my views remain the same…
You’ve got schools that educate our kids about politics, universities which take that education to a higher level, household kitchen tables where parents teach their kids and a vigorous media which keeps people regularly informed. I think all of those do plenty to educate people. And then it’s the job of political parties to give people somebody to vote for. Elections Canada, on the other hand, needs to get people the basic information about voting. And frankly, the data shows they haven’t done a very good job of that…
You know, when you have half of young people who don’t know that they can vote in an early ballot, 73% of aboriginal youth who don’t know that they can vote early, 60% of non-voters say their biggest obstacle are everyday life issues like being out of town, those are statistics that demonstrate the agency has not adequately educated the public about the tools that are available to help them cast their ballots. That is their singular role. I think everyone, regardless of what they think about my approach on education, everyone would agree that the first responsibility of Elections Canada when it comes to advertising is to tell people when, where and how to vote. It is demonstrably evident that they haven’t done that well, based on their own information. So when you’ve got political parties, schools, parents, media who can educate and inspire people to participate in politics, I think it’s time for Elections Canada to zero its focus in on the thing that it’s most intended to do.