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House rises and the campaign is on. Beware new voting rules!

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Photo: Flickr/Adam Scotti

Nobody in politics is even trying to pretend otherwise.

Parliament is going on a long break and the election campaign is on, full blast.

Some who don’t watch politics daily are surprised to learn that the House of Commons will not sit again before the election on October 19th, four months away.

Depending on the election result, in fact, Parliament may not meet again until 2016.

If the Conservatives get the largest number of seats, but not a majority, they may be tempted to rag the puck for a while, in the hope of discouraging any move by the other parties to unite and form an alternative government.

Fair Elections Act's new ID rules -- tough for those who lack driver's licenses

June 19th is also the anniversary of the passing of the Fair Elections Act.

That is the Conservative legislation that virtually muzzles Chief Electoral Officers, especially in their capacity to warn Canadians of possible fraud and abuse.

It also hobbles officials' capacity to investigate fraud of the sort that happened in 2011, by moving the chief investigator, the Elections Commissioner, out of Elections Canada and into the office of the Public Prosecutor, who reports directly to a partisan politician, the Minister of Justice.

Most important, as Canadians start to think about exercising their franchise in a little more than 16 weeks’ time, the Fair Elections Act places significant barriers in the way of voting for millions of Canadians.

There are new ID requirements, which will be difficult to meet for many who are elderly, poor, young, homeless, Indigenous or members of other minority communities.

If you are part of the about 80 per cent of Canadians who have valid, current driver’s licenses, with photo and correct address, you’re set. You’ve got you the required picture ID with address.

If you are part of the other 20 per cent or more who lack this precious card, you’re going to have to work hard to make sure you can vote, and it may not be easy.

That 20 per cent group constitutes well over four million people.

It is a big number: close to the entire population of British Columbia and greater than the number of people who voted last time in nine of the ten provinces. It is almost twice the number of people who voted in the Canada's largest city, Toronto, in 2011.  

A lot of voters, indeed, and for those millions of Canadians there may be a number of possibilities, but most are neither obvious nor simple. 

If voters, for instance, have provincial health cards, with photo, that will be helpful. But it will be not sufficient, because health cards normally lack the bearers’ address. Those voters will need another document, with their address, such as a utility or credit card bill, or a lease.

Poilievre malicously banned ID provided by Elections Canada itself

Now, most voters will receive the Voter Information Cards (VICs), provided by Elections Canada, at their homes. It will have their names, addresses and tell them where to vote.

In 2011, Elections Canada ran a pilot project in which VICs were used as corroborating ID. Do not forget that prior to the 2008 election no ID was required. Voters who were on the Elections Canada list merely told the poll officials their names. The officials then crossed them off, and voters could happily cast their ballots. It was a simple matter.

Elections Canada wanted its Voter Information Cards to be available as corroborating ID to all Canadian voters this time, in 2015. The Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, argued that those official documents would be especially helpful to the millions of citizens who do not have valid current driver’s licences, with photos and with current addresses.

In a gesture that would be utterly absurd were it not part of a transparent effort to suppress the votes of many who are unlikely to support the Conservatives, the Fair Elections Act specifically prohibits the use of the VICs, even as only a second and corroborating piece of ID.

Conservative politicians -- most notably Pierre Poilievre, then only the Minister for Democratic Reform, now also the powerful Employment and Social Development Minister -- demagogically and falsely claimed that "ordinary" Canadians were in favour of the new and restrictive Fair Elections Act rules.

The ordinary folks he talks to, Poilievre said, agree that "people should show ID order to vote."

No 'ordinary Canadians' testified in favour of Poilievre's voter suppression scheme

A funny thing happened, though, when House and Senate committees held hearings to consider the Fair Elections Act.

Not a single one of those ordinary Canadians turned up to testify in favour of the Act.

Legions of witnesses -- from the former Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, to the current and former Chief Electoral Officers, to representatives of youth, the poor and Indigenous people -- showed up to tell the government its new rules were manifestly unfair and discriminatory.

But the Conservatives did not try to put any of those "silent majority in favour" ordinary folks before the committees -- most likely because they did not really exist.

If people had said, at the time Parliament was considering Poilievre’s Act, that they supported its ID requirement, it was most likely because they were ignorant of the actual nature of those grotesque new rules.

There is a case before the court now in which the complainants are asking that Fair Elections’ ID rules, and certain other unfair provisions of the Act, be declared unconstitutional.

However, if the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students do not get a favourable ruling before the election -- either on the substance, or, in the form of an injunction temporarily suspending a number of Fair Elections Act measures until the case can be heard in full -- then the message for all is: Voter beware!

If you do not have that magic driver’s licence with photo and current ID, you should get on the Elections Canada website, right now, and start figuring out how to make sure you can vote.

Here is where to get all the information about voter identification rules: Elections.ca.

Stephen Harper and his friends hope you will not bother. 

 

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