The sketch: Is the Fair Elections Act a lesson in democracy?

‘Mr. Speaker, we have only begun debate’

by Aaron Wherry

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

It is not well and truly a fight until someone moves a concurrence motion.

A day earlier the government side had provided the House of Commons with the necessary notice that it would be moving a motion for time allocation, thus was everyone alerted to the possibility that the Conservatives would pursue a formal limit on the amount of debate at second reading for Bill C-23, the so-dubbed Fair Elections Act.

And so with the start of business this morning, the New Democrats set about mucking things up. There was a concurrence motion, which eventually compelled the government to move a motion to adjourn debate on the concurrence motion, then a motion to adjourn, then votes, in some cases conducted slowly, on concurrence and adjournment, then a motion that a member-be-now-heard (which was denied on procedural grounds), then a question of privilege (pertaining to the translation services provided to MPs during a briefing on C-23) and then a point of order (pertaining to a discrepancy between the English and French versions of C-23). Only then was Government House leader Peter Van Loan able to move his motion of time allocation and after the necessary hour of debate on that motion and the 30-minutes of bells (electronic chimes, really) to call in the members, the House was running rather behind schedule. Finally, after some disagreement over when the time for statements by members should occur (the New Democrats said after Question Period, the Conservatives said before), the Speaker decided to proceed with Question Period. (The Liberal deputy whip would later complain that the NDP’s mucking about had actually served to reduce the time for debate.)

As luck would have it, matters in the House played out while the chief electoral officer was down the hall to testify before the Procedure and House affairs committee about an unrelated matter. It was there that the NDP’s David Christopherson took the opportunity to table a motion calling for more than two months of hearings on C-23, including travel to “all regions of Canada, (Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Northern Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia and the North), as well as downtown urban settings (such as the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver) and rural and remote settings.” And it was shortly after this that the chief electoral officer, finished with his appearance before the committee, faced questions from reporters and thus publicly expressed some reservations about the government’s bill.

As these things go, this passes for excitement. Or at least, in regards to the official opposition’s efforts, an attempt at excitement.

If the goal of the parliamentary system is that nothing should go quietly, then something might be said for the first three days of C-23′s existence. The minister might have had the advantage of making the first comment, but given two days to study the bill’s clauses, the press gallery has started to sort through the details and circle the interesting bits. And now as the parties stake out their positions and work their angles and the parliamentary process unfolds and interested observers step forward to offer their judgment, the minister must talk his way through, past or over whatever can be said about his bill. This is something like how it’s supposed to work, as perhaps it should in particular for a bill about democracy.

“Mr. Speaker, section 18 of the Conservatives’ so-called Fair Elections Act gives veto power over new voting methods to, wait for it, the Senate,” Thomas Mulcair shortly after Question Period began. “Yes, the unelected, unaccountable Conservative and Liberal Senate. Maybe that is why the Liberals were voting with the Conservatives today. Using closure to give a veto power to the unelected Senate. Is that the Conservatives’ real idea of a democracy?”

Mr. Mulcair chopped his hand in Mr. Poilievre’s direction and Mr. Poilievre stood, buttoned his suit jacket like a gentleman and responded in kind.

“Mr. Speaker, what the amendments to section 18 actually do is require that before the CEO of Elections Canada experiments with new methods of voting that those methods be approved by Parliament,” he explained. “One of the methods that has been discussed is online electronic voting. Now, the NDP tried electronic voting at its very convention and could not make it work. So if the New Democrats could not make it work at their convention, why do they want the CEO to have the ability to do it without Parliament’s approval for the entire national election?”

Whether the minister had come up with this on the spot or been waiting for days for the opportunity to use it, this was a good line. Except possibly for the fact that when Thomas Mulcair’s proposed reforms to the parliamentary budget office included the stipulation that the officer be appointed after consultation with “both houses” of Parliament, it was John Baird who stood in the House and lamented that the NDP leader desired to give “new and unprecedented power” to the “unelected Senate.”

Mr. Mulcair tried again and then Mr. Poilievre attempted to reach for oratory.

“We will never apologize,” he declared, “for putting Parliament in charge of protecting the voting system.”

Yes, well, about that.

After various questions about various other matters, NDP whip Nycole Turmel stood to lament, of the time allocation motion, that the government was trying to “silence the opposition” In between references to omnibus bills and fraudulent calls, she suggested that the Elections Act should not be handled in a “partisan” manner.

Now Mr. Poilievre would offer his version of events over the last 72 hours.

“Mr. Speaker, the NDP has to make up its mind. First of all, New Democrats did not want any debate at all on the Fair Elections Act,” he ventured. “They sent their NDP critic out to declare his opposition to it seconds before he admitted he had not read it. Now they are saying they want more debate, so we are saying, that is great, let us send it to committee so that it can be debated and studied there, and they are opposed to that, too.”

There is surely something to be said for debate, not quite as to whether whatever is said in the House of Commons about today, tomorrow and Monday will or will not change anyone’s mind. As I seem to recall someone once pointing out to me, it is also a matter of time—the time provided by the parliamentary process that allows for consideration, scrutiny and the marshalling of public opinion.

This bill (252 pages) will have gone from tabling to passing at second reading in less than a week. Even if this government’s Accountability Act (200 pages) received a similar number of days of debate at second reading in 2006, 16 days passed between tabling and a vote. The Chretien government’s political financing bill (274 pages) in 2003 was seven weeks old when it passed at second reading. In total, it took more than two months and more than four months respectively for those bills to pass the House.

Those are but two examples (plucked off the top of my head as examples of recent democratic reform). But while we’re here, presented with the possibilities of changes to the way we conduct our democracy, perhaps we might sort through some other things as well.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has decided Elections Canada should no longer play a role in educating Canadians about voting,” the NDP’s Chris Charlton reported after Ms. Turmel had finished. “The minister pays lip service to democratic reform and increasing voter turnout, but then introduces a law that would do the exact opposite. Why is the minister blocking Elections Canada from doing outreach and education to increase voter turnout? Why is he afraid of people voting?”

Mr. Poilievre begged to differ.

“Mr. Speaker, to the contrary, since Elections Canada began its promotional campaigns voter turnout has plummeted from 75% to 61%,” he said.

“Oh, so it’s their fault?” came a voice from the NDP side.

“The reality is that Elections Canada data show that the leading reason for which young voters do not cast ballots is because they do not have all the necessary information,” Mr. Poilievre continued. “For example, half of young people are unaware that they can vote in advance, by mail or by special ballot at the Elections Canada office. That means that one in two youth voters who are busy on election day do not have any other option to vote. We want to inform them of those options so they get out and cast their ballots.”

Next, Ms. Charlton asked if the government would entertain amendments to its bill.

“Mr. Speaker,” responded Mr. Poilievre, “we have only begun debate.”

This, one way or the other, is almost certainly true.

So gather round kids. In addition to learning how to vote, you might now get a lesson in what happens after you’ve done so.

The sketch: Is the Fair Elections Act a lesson in democracy?

  1. I’m dropping out, no more ballot boxes for me, too disgusted w/ the Cons. Let my adult children take up the charade. Harper and PP are just floppy, rancid, weak toys, step on ‘em.

    • Dropping out is exactly what the cons want you to do. Then their own dedicated voters will take up the slack and elect them again and again.

      Let your children do it? They might have a chance. or they might follow your vapid example.

    • The best way to “step on ‘em” is to vote them out. I join with others here to ask you to not sneer at your right to vote, or to believe it does not matter — as Doug said, this apathy, this feeling of your vote doesn’t matter, is exactly what the cons want you to feel. The kids will learn from your example, and if my adult children are representative, they aren’t particularly interested in politics until they understand how much it has to do with our everyday lives. Mine showed little interest until they got to be around 25. I have read your posts before — you are interested in the way our country is managed. Have your say with your vote.

      Moreover, may I suggest you might feel more empowered if you stepped up to a local riding association and offered some help, whatever it is you are good at. Sometimes involvement can go a long way to feeling like your voice matters.

    • Just like a Boomer, let your kids pay for it.

  2. Daisee – don’t be a quitter. That’s a terrible example for your kids. Allow me to remind you that there are choices – if you’re disgusted with the Cons (as so many of us are), then choose one of the other two Parties.

    • There are more than two parties out there. Even if your party isn’t relevant, you should vote for the one which represents you best.

      • Apologies. I meant more than “two more parties” out there.

  3. “Mr. Poilievre begged to differ.

    “Mr. Speaker, to the contrary, since Elections Canada began its
    promotional campaigns voter turnout has plummeted from 75% to 61%,” he
    said.

    “Oh, so it’s their fault?” came a voice from the NDP side.
    “The reality is that Elections Canada data show that the leading
    reason for which young voters do not cast ballots is because they do not
    have all the necessary information,” Mr. Poilievre continued. “For
    example, half of young people are unaware that they can vote in advance,
    by mail or by special ballot at the Elections Canada office. That means
    that one in two youth voters who are busy on election day do not have
    any other option to vote. We want to inform them of those options so
    they get out and cast their ballots.”

    This is what happens as Holmes might say when you come first with the theory then the data.
    There
    may be correlation here Mr P, but that’s no where near causal.
    Correlation does not imply causation. That is a basic logical fallacy.
    What’s with these Tories, did they all flunk logic 101? Or, as is more
    likely , do they not give a frickin flying F#@& as long as it gets them
    to where they want to be politically? It is even entirely possible that
    had ECs Canada not conducted promotional campaigns the drop off would be
    even worse. Truly as Potter said, the Party of the Stupid, and
    determined to remain ever more so.

    edit: Why did you remove this macleans? There are people posting vile stuff here and you do little or nothing, but follow normal practice and use the F word with the appropriate * and you pull it. I’ve covered it a little more. I hope that satisfies you this time. Get it together please.

    • That’s cute, you trying to pretend you know anything about logic.

      Correlation does not imply causation. That is a basic logical fallacy.

      Followed up by:

      It is even entirely possible that had ECs Canada not conducted promotional campaigns the drop off would be even worse.

      Sure, and by your “logic” it’s entirely possible that had EC not conducted promotional campaigns that the unicorns would be in government today.

      • You don’t actually know what a counter factual is do you? Care to dispute the assertion that correlation doesn’t imply causation?…didn’t think so
        I’m pretty confident my grasp of logic and rational discourse leaves your in the dust NotRick.

          • You know sooner or later Macleans is going to call the help line for you. You’re cracking up.

    • Rick: “I used to think correlation implied causation.”

      Rick: “Then I took a statistics class.”

      KCM: “Sounds like it helped.”

      Rick: “Maybe”

      http://xkcd.com/552/

      • I’m not touching that. I don’t know where it’s been. Could be spyware.

        • We already know everything swab………….heh.

    • Technically you are correct, but in general if a department runs a program, they need some evidence that the program has been successful, and in this case that would be some improvement in the voter turn-out percentage. Since there is no improvement, it seems reasonable to question the value in continuing to offer the program.

      • BS…the minister has given zero indication he’s looked at any evidence to the contrary, or has asked ECs to justify their programmes. In fact we have no evidence beyond Poilivere’s assertions he’s even looked at the issue seriously in any way. In addition we have the CEO Mayrand saying he wasn’t consulted at all.
        Just asserting something to be true doesn’t make it true, i trust you know that?

        • Why should the minister bend over backwards to look for evidence that a particular program is effective if (on philosophical grounds) he does not like the program? It is up to the department to defend the program if they think it is so wonderful, but it looks like they will have a difficult time doing so given the statistics.

          • Ah, so in your mind ECs has to defend the efficacy of its programmes, but the minister has to offer zero evidence beyond a philosophical disconnect for his solution. What big selective empirical teeth you have there grandma Rose. Mayrand must meet the ministers test; PP can just selectively misquote from ECs own website…essentially meets no test. But that is rather the Harpercon way getting stuff done isn’t it? It seems you’re another one who thinks correlation = causation. And there is no evidence PP gave Mayrand even the courtesy or even opportunity of defending the outreach programme.

          • What world do you live in? That’s how things have always worked — under Liberals and Conservatives. If the minister disagrees with a particular policy or program, it is the minister’s prerogative to get rid of it. In this case, it is not a “solution” that is being offered — just a decision not to continue spending on a program that they consider not to be part of EC’s mandate. The government sets funding priorities.

            Your comment re correlation = causation is not relevant here, as my only point regarding “causation” has to do with the minister being the one who has authority.

            You are correct that Mayrand probably was not asked for his opinion on this. I believe there may be some bad blood between Mayrand and the Conservatives. Likely in this they are both somewhat to blame.

          • The real question is give me some evidence for your assertion that’s the way it has always worked with previous Liberal or PC govts.
            On any issue of comparable significance Parliament has had months in some cases to consider the merits of such a bill.[ indeed the title of Well's blog was reform in haste repent at leisure] Whether it was Chretien’s reform of political financing or Mulroney’s gst and free trade or Trudeau’s patriation bill, there was enormous effort expended to both consult Canadians and Parliment, and amend where necessary.
            Correlation and causation are completely relevant, and neither imply the minister can’t make a call. But you live in wonderland, where it’s verdict and sentence first, then the charge and scant review of evidence. Nice attempt at balance – epic fail!

  4. Voting is like pre-selecting your rapist.

    • Whether that’s true or not I want a vote. In fact, I want a vote especially if it’s true.

    • Yep. Who gets more of your money to do less for us is the only possible result on the ballots.

      And who is watching he watchers? Not too many people admitting they voted for Nenshi or Redford……

  5. New rules , War is peace ,freedom is slavery , ignorance is strength , debate has begun !

    • Hail Oceanea!

      • Orwellian state already owns us. Note how Harper (and other PMs before him, even Liberals) say ” … it costs government….”. These tree words means governemtn views you as 100% own slave of state and they leave us with money. The reality is it costs governemtn nothing, it costs tax-slave class of people and consumers funding over $45 billion in hidden taxes, price protectionisms extra.

        Ottawa sells big governemtn even when it makes no sense. Take the job myths. Governemtn taxes me more for someones job, I will spend less on someone else’s job. No real jobs created, just inefficiently redistributed with non-value added governemtn bloat consumption. Only real winner is bloated government and their back room buddies.

        As government ignores reality, real jobs come from affordable exchange of goods and services. it is that simple, as more GDP can mean you pay more for less and less is not more jobs. It really is as simple as people with more value money, more of their incomes from less taxes, will have more to spend on other peoples jobs. But with government talking so much in hidden taxes, hidden protectionisms and taxes, it depresses the job market.

        • Economics of scale again, dave777. Inefficiency is thousands of people spending money trying to move goods by carriage and canoe. Efficiency is building a railroad.

          Inefficiency is thousands of businesses attempting to arrange their own deals with foreign nationals. Efficiency is a free-trade agreement.

          Inefficiency: messages delivered by message carriers.
          Efficiency: telecommunications infrastructure.

          Sure, taxes can be used inefficiently, but your all-encompassing, over-generalized, naïve libertarian rantings on the matter are simply idiotic at this point. Especially because I’ve already corrected you so often yet you seem to be too dense to learn.

  6. One can tell how effective the law will be…by listening to the whiners.
    Marc Mayrand most of all……the man oozes Liberal bias. He’s just ticked that the Conservatives have called him on it….and explained exactly what the new law was needed.
    “Jersey Time”

    • Yup. The entire criticism of this bill seems to center around the fact that one man, Marc Mayrand has not been given complete and absolute control over our democracy.

      I’m sure the opposition would be quite content if Marc Mayrand were just given the power to appoint MPs as he see’s fit. Just like they wanted what’s-his-face former-PBO-guy to write the nations budgets. Which is exactly what we’d get if either opposition party were ever in government.

      • By giving all election investigation power to an official who reports to the PMO, you could fairly say, “one man, Stephen Harper has been given complete and absolute control over our democracy.”

      • Serious question: Do you actually believe your own drivel? Or are you just some, potentially paid, con yes man? A stuffed puppet…

        • Sad to say he believes it. And what drivel it is eh.

    • Well if you are correct, then so are all the critics.

      It would mean that the conservatives deliberately used this bill to attack Mayrand.

      Of course that nonsense about bias has been disproved so many times it need not bear mention; or should I say that nonsense about bias has never been proven, not even with a scintilla of evidence.

      So what we are left with is the conservatives do not like the fact their illegal activities are being investigated and exposed, so they rewrote the law to cover it up, and then released the bill and pushed it through during the Olympics in the hopes that no one would notice.

  7. Heil big brother! Heil Oceania! Elections Canada must be taught the truth about protecting the electoral system. The foxes are the best protectors of the henhouse.

  8. The Leftist Mental Disorder that predominates this thread is very indicative of the sad state of mental health of these individuals.

    Do yourselves a favour and give the Canadian Mental Health Association a call, I’m sure that they can help you all with your affliction.

    • Yep, our society is in decay when the tax man is used to fund unproductive money for nothing, bloated buddy contracts, bailouts for votes….

      If everyone was taxed 100% to fund governemtn and we all worked for government, who is going to feed us? Only the left thinks we can afford $1000 government burgers on a zero net income.

      But hten our society is degenerating into the greed of other peoples money for nothing but waste.

      Tax me more for someones job, I will spend less on someone else’s job. Our corrupt greedy statism governments refuse to acknowledge reality, jobs come from affordable exchange of goods and services and with governemtn taking too much for so little value, we have less jobs and lower paying jobs where they exist. Thus, more government means less for the people.

      Liberal-socialism-statism isn’t going to be able to bypass reality.

    • One good argument for restricting the vote there Bubba…just not in the way you anticipate.

  9. The title is wrong. Should be “Not enforcing current laws, so making more laws not to be enforced”.

    That is the reality. Stall the people with do nothing committees and deceive them by not delivering justice to the insiders that really run and ruin this country.

    Besides, with a statism only ballot, our democracy is a farce anyways. Only choices we have is more government and less for us. With less of our own money, we even spend less on other peoples jobs and don’t have enough kids we need open and reckless immigration policies.

  10. Daisee, Doug is right. You must vote, especially now as we see our democracy being dissolved by these cons. Please go and vote!

  11. Pingback: The sketch: The Fair Elections Act chronicles

  12. Pingback: Fair Elections Act: Pierre Poilievre throws a punch at Marc Mayrand

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *