The Fair Elections Act: What about the children?

What the bill might mean for Election Canada's civic education efforts

The New Democrats are now pursuing a new angle on the Fair Elections Act: the bill’s impact on Elections Canada’s civic education efforts.

At issue here is Section 18 of the Canada Elections Act. At present, the statute dictates that “the Chief Electoral Officer may implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.”

Under C-23, that clause is replaced with the following.

18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:

(a) how to become a candidate;
(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the elector on the list;
(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;
(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that they may use to that end; and
(e) the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station or to mark a ballot.

That would seem to not cover the sort of  educational programming that Elections Canada currently participates in—see this backgrounder from the agency explaining its efforts and partnerships. In the 2008 and 2011 elections, Elections Canada provided 100% of the funding for Student Vote, the parallel election program for schools run by CIVIX ($743,655 in funding and in-kind donations, with 3,750 schools participating). The new Section 18 wouldn’t necessarily mean an end for the Student Vote program, but, as CIVIX’s Taylor Gunn explained in an interview with me today, Elections Canada has the benefit of being an objective source of funding that might allay any concerns about the program. CIVIX’s best hope now is for an amendment to the bill.

At committee and in the House, the minister for democratic reform has brushed aside questions on this front. And the response from his office was mostly the same when I asked if there was any concern that bill would impact the agency’s civic education efforts.

Elections Canada’s own data shows that the emphasis of the agency’s promotional campaigns is misplaced.  For example, in the last election, half of youth in this country are unaware that they can vote using three different methods prior to Election Day.  That is why the Fair Elections Act will focus promotional campaigns on the basic information Canadians need to vote: when, where and what ID to bring to vote.

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