Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal

What should you do when good legislation is introduced by bad political parties?

It’s hard — though not completely impossible — to argue the federal Conservatives are not doing the right thing with last week’s Tweeted announcement by Edmonton-Sherwood Park MP Tim Uppal that they’ll make a virtue of necessity and de-criminalize reporting election-night results from eastern parts of the country before the polls have closed in the West.

Not being able to discuss a public event that had already happened was always an affront to free speech, and was pretty much obsolete to boot — thanks to radio waves and long-distance telephone lines, not to mention the Internet. Indeed, where I grew up on the West Coast, the U.S. radio station next door used to gleefully report Canadian election results from the Maritimes as soon as they clattered off the AP wire. The only difference now is that anyone can do it.

What’s more, it was unfair to those of us out here in the West, since no one in Newfoundland could face prosecution for the same thing — surely there must have been a Charter challenge awaitin’ in that geographical fact!

There was a school of thought that the answer lay in just not having the polls report their results in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia until they had closed in British Columbia. But, no doubt, Nova Scotians and Newfoundlanders wouldn’t have been very happy about having to wait until midnight, or half an hour after, to learn how they’d voted.

Still, at the risk of sounding churlish, just as you want to check that your watch and your wallet are still in place after an encounter with a Harper Tory, when I hear a report like this it inevitably makes me wonder what the Harperistas are really up to. After all, the announcement came from a guy whose Orwellian sounding official cabinet title is Minister of State for Democratic Reform, which sends a little chill up my spine every time I read or hear it.

Have the Harperites got a plan to run election night radio ads to exploit developing trends in Eastern Canada? Unlikely, I suppose, but not so outlandish you wouldn’t want to bother checking if anyone’s been booking election day advertising a time zone over the next time a federal writ drops. Make a note to follow up on that!

Or are they just softening us up for an inevitable pitch to install Diebold voting machines that — really, honest! — will make vote counting so much more efficient, and maybe even let you vote from home…

However, I guess we shouldn’t look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. The law makes sense and it’s hard to imagine that the Opposition parties won’t support it.

Arguably, the most interesting part of this story is the account of Uppal’s kind words for Vancouver software architect Paul Bryan, who intentionally broke the law in order to fight it.

Now, Bryan does indeed deserve some credit — if his campaign failed in the courts, it nevertheless seems to have succeeded in the court of public opinion. But it always makes me wonder just a little when I hear a Conservative praising someone for breaking the law.

Aren’t these the same Conservatives who along with their online Tory Rage Machine were in an absolute swivet about the Occupy movement protesters breaking municipal bylaws by camping in civic squares around the nation to make a point about the way our society’s economy is organized? Practically wanted the tanks sent in, didn’t they?

Don’t I recall hearing one of the Conservatives’ most vociferous supporters calling Occupy protesters here in Alberta “the socialists, communists, anarchists and petty criminals who inhabited downtown Calgary’s Olympic Plaza.” I think that pretty accurately reflects the Tory take on people who break laws Conservatives approve of.

Well, again, I suppose we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

But if the Harper Conservatives want to lionize Bryan for breaking a law that needed to be broken, and that’s OK with me, they’ll need to be careful about the way they assail the rest of us when the hoof is on the other foot and the gift horse is pointing the other direction.

We all need to remember that sometimes the only way to fix a bad law is to break it, or to break another one and inconvenience someone in the process. So the next time someone has to pound in some tent pegs in a public place to make that point — like, say, when the ground here in Alberta thaws again — we may need to remind our Conservative friends that civil disobedience is a two way street and you can travel on it in more than one direction if you’re prepared as Bryan was to pay the tariff. (Which in the case of the election reporting law unsurprisingly turned out not to be very steep.)

This kind of thing makes me think of the recent Conservative effort to “go nuclear” and pretend foreign environmentalists have no right to try to influence our Canadian pipeline debate as giant multinational energy corporations do routinely with Conservative connivance, both openly and with cash laundered through their Canadian subsidiaries.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. In the mean time, here’s to Uppal. I guess.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...