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Navigating the new election rules

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Since Harper became Canada's 22nd prime minister in 2006, there have been quite a few changes to how Canadian elections are conducted. Many of these changes should spark outrage and make us take action to fight for truly fair elections.

The Conservatives have been caught flouting Elections Canada spending limits and misleading and disenfranchising voters who were opposed to them in past elections. With the inappropriately named Fair Election Act, the Conservatives were able to use their majority, and the scandal they created with misleading robocalls, as an excuse to get more money to their candidates while dismantling efforts to expand fairness in elections. This blog lists some of the changes that impact voters in the 2015 election, but I am sure I have missed some. Please do feel free to add more.


Until to the 2006 election, voters did not require proof of identification if they were already on the voters' list; they simply needed to state their name and address at the polling station.

During the Conservatives' first term in office, voter ID requirements were introduced. Since the Fair Elections Act was passed, all voters are now required to prove their identity and their address with photo ID. Vouching was not completely eliminated but it has been curtailed.

What does this mean? Megan Devlin wrote a great piece for rabble.ca about the new ID requirements. A complete list of accepted forms of ID can be found on the Elections Canada website.

As you go to vote in the 2015 election, check to make sure you are registered to vote and if you know of people in retirement homes, or have kids in university -- make sure that they are registered and have identification when they head to the polls. 

More disenfranchised voters

In 2011, 24.3 million citizens were eligible to vote, and only 14.8 million voted (61 per cent). Read this study by StatsCan breaking down the dynamics of voter turnout in the 2011 election. Many people have been focused on increasing voter turnout -- because that means more than one-third of Canadians did not vote -- but the Harper government has been focused on suppressing the vote even further.

As a result of recent changes to our voting regulations, voter identification cards, which were going to be rolled out across the country by Elections Canada, will not be used as valid identification, and voter ID regulations could disenfranchise half a million, 500,000 people. Furthermore, the new regulations have  disenfranchised more than one million expatriate Canadians and eliminates the International Register of Electors. This will make voting much harder for Canadians living outside Canada, including the families of Canadian military officers stationed abroad. That is 1.5 million Canadians who may be disenfranchised, either de jure or de facto, because their right to vote has been stripped away, or they do not have the ID to vote or the paperwork will take too long to process.

Students, seniors living in nursing homes, and First Nations voters have been identified as groups that could be negatively impacted by the new ID regulations. Chiefs have been working to turn out the vote against Harper and have worked with Elections Canada to develop a guide targeting the First Nations voters. Support the Assembly of First Nations as they take on this work to get out the vote in target ridings.

Changes to election financing rules

Until 2015, Canada's federal political parties received funding in three ways: electoral expense reimbursements, political contributions from individuals, and per vote subsidies. Union and corporate contributions to federal elections were banned by the Liberal government before Harper took power. These sources of funding determined, along with loans and secondary revenue sources, how much money the federal political parties had available to spend.

As of 2015, the per-vote subsidy, often called the most democratic funding source, provided money based upon the votes a party was able to garner, has been phased out and ended. Meanwhile the individual contribution limit has been raised to $1,500 per person. And now, longer campaigns mean higher spending limits (provided your coffers are full and you have wealthy donors, which the Conservative Party does). So election reimbursement could mean that parties could spend about $51 million, instead of $25.5 million. If the Conservatives spend the new maximum, they'll get $26 million in public money, rather than $13 million -- so much for protecting taxpayer pockets.

Disgusting, right? We think so too. Support Democracy Watch's Money in Politics campaign, and fight for fairness in election financing again.

Advertising and third-party advertising

Have you seen the Harper government's ads using taxpayer dollars for partisan advertising? Have you seen the recent announcements doling out federal money to key ridings to help build support for the Conservative Party? Support Democracy Watch's call for an investigation into these ads.

Meanwhile this election introduces a new term to those of us supporting candidates and advocating for political change, third-party advertising. Read this great post by rabble.ca contributor Kevin Grandia as he explains what third-party advertising is, based upon guiding language published by Elections Canada. According to Elections Canada and Grandia, individuals can use social media to support their choices -- so build the movement for change, support your local candidates and get people out to vote.

A robocall registry

The changes that were made by the Fair Elections Act were purportedly to protect voters from rogue calls and impersonations. The bill does create a mandatory public registry of organizations engaging in mass-calling or robocalls and it increases penalties for individuals found guilty of impersonating elections officials or tampering with an election. Read this article in the Huffington Post to find out more about the robocall regulations. If you do get a suspect call, report it to stopelectionfraud.ca or to the CRTC.

Changing the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada

Initially the bill proposed to curtail the efforts by Elections Canada to get out the vote, but some of these provisions were lifted. However there have been changes to the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and a member of Parliament whose elections results are being contested by the Chief Electoral Officer may now remain as a sitting member of Parliament until that dispute is resolved. 

New ridings, new names, and new riding boundaries

Thirty new ridings have been introduced for the 2015 federal election, bringing the total number up to 338 and a majority of ridings will have their boundaries changed compared to the demarcations used in 2011 federal election. Make sure you know what your riding is, and do vote.

Poll workers can use tablets and smartphone apps, but can't take pictures

The bingo sheets are not gone, volunteers and scrutineers cannot take photos or videos in polling stations, but they can use their smart phones. A great article by Kady O'Mally talks about how this could be used by the Conservatives to strengthen their election day efforts. 

So on election day, get out and vote, and volunteer.

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