Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Bill C-23: This seen on the interwebs Monday night:
I am writing to ask that you vote to reject Bill 23, the so-called “Fair Elections Act.”
Many other Canadians will have written to you about the content of this bill which, even after having been amended, still contains a number of provisions that would be very damaging to our democracy should the bill become law.
Rather than cover that same ground, I would like to focus on the process by which this flawed legislation has been rammed through, and on your proper role as senators.
Just before Confederation, John A. Macdonald described what the role of the Senate would be in the new country of Canada:
"It must be an independent House, having a free action of its own, for it is only valuable as being a regulating body, calmly considering the legislation initiated by the popular branch, and preventing any hasty or ill considered legislation which may come from that body, but it will never set itself in opposition against the deliberate and understood wishes of the people."
I submit to you that this is one of those very rare occasions on which it is your duty to prevent what is clearly hasty and ill considered legislation coming from the House of Commons.
I say “very rare” because throughout most of Canada’s history, legislation arising from the House of Commons has represented the “deliberate and understood wishes of the people” – at least to some reasonable extent.
But currently you have a bill before you that does not represent the wishes of the people. The current majority government was elected by a minority of voters in the last general election. I understand that that’s a product of the way our electoral system works, and that majority governments tend to take advantage of their ability to push through the legislation they want.
However, never before in the history of Canada has a government – either minority or majority – rammed through legislation that changes the fundamental rules concerning our electoral process, without any meaningful consultation with the opposition parties or with the academic experts or with the individuals within Elections Canada who would be affected by the changes.
I have followed the progress of C-23 very closely since it was introduced in February of this year.
What I have witnessed has horrified me.
The Minister for Democratic reform (who is probably the most partisan MP in the Conservative caucus) has run around crowing that this is a “terrific bill” that is very popular. This is simply not true. As soon the academic experts had a chance to analyze this two-hundred-and-some page bill, they came out firmly against it. The Minister for Democratic reform called these scholars “self-proclaimed” experts, as if they had granted themselves their own PhDs. All of the opposition parties are against many of this bill’s provisions. Opposition MPs put forward, in good faith, over a hundred proposed amendments when the bill was at committee. Not one of their amendments was accepted -- not even the innocuous and helpful suggestion that Elections Canada indicate clearly on the Voter Information Card that it is no longer accepted as a form of ID. The Chief Electoral Officer pointed out grave concerns he had about the bill, and he was smeared as being biased and self-interested.
Those are the “elites” – academic experts, MPs, and the Chief Electoral Officer. But what about “ordinary Canadians”? From everything I’ve seen, the vast majority of Canadians who know even a little bit about the bill think it’s terrible too. Every poll that I’ve seen asking about this bill indicates that most informed Canadians think this is a bad bill. Recent comments on the Minister for Democratic Reform’s Facebook page (which comments may have been deleted by now) make it clear that the bill is wildly unpopular. I have screen shots of the hundreds of comments, and almost every single one of them was against the bill. I’ve been watching the newspapers across the country for letters to the editor on this bill, and from what I’ve seen they have been overwhelmingly negative too. I have compiled a list of organizations that oppose the bill, and it includes teachers’ associations, CARP, various unions, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association… and the list goes on.
So, there is every reason to believe that this is “ill considered legislation” and that it does not represent the “deliberate and understood wishes of the people”. In addition, it is “hasty”. Time allocation was used at every turn, and at the House Committee stage there wasn’t even time to consider every proposed amendment.
The PMO has such an iron grip of control over the Conservative MPs that whatever those MPs were hearing from their constituents about C-23 (and I predict that future Access to Information requests will show that the Conservative MPs were hearing a lot of objections), they felt they had no choice but to vote in favour of it.
You, however, as senators do not have to vote for a bill that does not reflect the “deliberate and understood wishes of the people”. Indeed, it is your duty to vote against it. To those of you who are Conservative senators, I say: you are independent, and I can’t bring myself to believe that you would submit to the indignity of having your vote whipped by your political party on any matter, let alone on a matter as fundamental as the rules by which we run our democracy.
There is treachery going on in Ottawa, and hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of Canadians know it. Surely each and every one of you can remember a time in Canada when Ministers of the Crown didn’t go around publicly smearing highly respected individuals who are Officers of Parliament or former Officers of Parliament. The current PMO and the current Cabinet have rendered the Lower House dysfunctional.
You have the power and the duty to protect our electoral system, each and every one of you as individual, independent senators.
During the recent Senate scandal, many people renewed the cynical call for the abolition of the Senate. I have been one of the staunchest defenders of your institution, and I have defended you by saying that you are a layer of protection against a rogue majority in the House. Well, rogues are what we have now. It’s time for you to protect us.
Here is Sir John A. Macdonald one last time:
"There would be no use of an Upper House, if it did not exercise, when it thought proper, the right of opposing or amending or postponing the legislation of the Lower House. It would be of no value whatever were it a mere chamber for registering the decrees of the Lower House."
If the Senate does not reject Bill C-23 outright, I will start working with other Canadians for its abolition. This is a critical moment for you. Please do the right thing.
Chris Kelland, Ph.D.