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article imageOp-Ed: Leadnow's call to action against voter suppression, election law Special

By Grace C. Visconti     Apr 21, 2014 in Politics
Vancouver - Rodrigo Samayoa of Leadnow (Vancouver) discusses voter suppression, how the Unfair Elections Act (UEA) will disenfranchise many voters and will affect fraud investigations. He encourages people, including youth, to sign the unfair elections act petition.
Fair elections act: 7 things you may not know
Sign the unfair elections act petition, here.
Over the next two weeks we are asking people to send emails to their MPs and visit them during the parliamentary break. At the same time, we have some volunteer teams canvasing in Ottawa and Toronto to apply pressure to key MPs.
Rodrigo Samayoa
GCV: Define the “unfair election law” and how it will lead to voter suppression and against whom, what demographic?
RS: The Unfair Elections Act (UEA) is the Conservative’s response to the calls for reforming the Elections Act to prevent fraud following the 2011 robocall scandal. However, instead of addressing the core problems surrounding the Robocall scandal it is stacking the deck in favour of the Conservative Party for the 2015 elections. Elections Canada and fraud investigators have repeatedly called for the power to compel testimony during fraud investigations, but instead of giving them this power, the UEA will muzzle Elections Canada, make investigations less transparent and make it harder for people to vote during elections.
This last part is crucial, because it is a deliberate attempt by Conservatives to suppress the vote of young, aboriginal and low-income people who are the groups least likely to vote Conservative. This is being done by ending the practice of vouching and restricting the use of the Voter Information Card. Vouching is a tool that allows neighbors, friends or family members to vouch for the identity of voters in the same polling division. This is an important safeguard for people who do not have proof of address like students, low-income families without a permanent address, homeless people or seniors in care facilities and seniors homes. The use of the Voter Information Card is another tool that could be used too as proof of address since every registered voter gets one, but this bill will also restrict the use of this card. This means that anyone without a permanent address will have a harder time to vote during the next elections. According to Harry Neufeld, the author of the report the Conservatives are using to justify these changes, this could disenfranchise up to half a million people.
GCV: What evidence is there that vouching has caused voter fraud in the past or is this a smoke screen for something else in your opinion?
RS: There is little to no evidence there has been voter fraud using vouching in the past. Cases are few and far between and do not justify denying hundreds of thousand the right to vote. It is a smoke screen to draw eyes away from real large-scale electoral fraud like the robocall scandal, in which Conservative Party operatives were involved.
GCV: Will there be any more protests across Canada regarding voter suppression and this “unfair” election law? Why do you think the Conservative Party is laying the ground rules and not all parties in collaboration of our democratic right to vote?
RS: Yes, there will be more protests across the country against this bill until the bill has been scraped. Actions are being planned across the country to put pressure on Conservative MPs to kill this bill. During the parliamentary break from the 14th to the 25th, Canadians across the country will visit, phone and email their MPs to tell them how much they value our Democracy and how far they are willing to go to protect it.
The Conservative Party is not listening to the views of opposition parties, experts and the broader Canadian public because they believe no one is paying attention. They want to stack the deck for the next elections and think we are too blind to see what they are doing. They are gambling with our democracy. What they don’t realize is that we know they have loaded the dice.
GCV: How will this unfair election law affect Canada’s reputation as a “guardian of democracy and human rights” which we have always been proud to maintain and practice?
RS: International experts have already warned the Conservative government that this will have a terrible impact on our international image. We will no longer be the “guardian of democracy and human rights.” If this bill passes we will lose the moral high ground that allows us to protect democracy in other parts of the world. Harper has shown great support to the democratic transition in the Ukraine and has pushed back against the Russian incursions into Crimea, while at the same time he is knowingly eroding democratic safeguards in Canada.
GCV: What may be the effect that this unfair elections law will have on donors and larger sponsors?
RS: The Unfair Elections Act will increase individual donation limits from 1,200 to 1,500 and will eliminate limits on loans to candidates and parties. This will increase the influence of money in politics by allowing those who can most afford to donate to political campaigns to buy influence. Money already has too much power in politics. Increasing the power of money will do nothing but undermine the democratic powers of everyday Canadians.
GCV: How is this unfair election law bringing Canada together to fight for our democratic rights?
RS: This is an issue that spans the left-right divide. Democracy is an inherently Canadian value. Very few in this country will disagree with the principle that in a democracy everyone has a voice, whether you are a homeless person in the downtown east side of Vancouver or a millionaire investor in Toronto. This law is a blatant attack on this democratic principle and people from across the country have stood up against it, from academics, to bureaucrats to students. Polls have shown that the more people know about this bill the more they oppose it. If a community is not speaking out against it, it is not because the don't believe people have a right to vote, but because they do not know about it.
GCV: What is The Reform Act and how are the Conservative and opposition MPs rallying to defend our democracy? How will The Reform Act strengthen our democracy?
RS: The Reform Act is a private member’s bill that could take a critical first step towards ending the iron-fisted control that Prime Ministers and party leaders exert over our MPs. The most important parts of the bill are the following:
1. It would remove the party leaders’ ability to veto local MP nominations, making sure MPs can speak freely without fear that the party leader will force them out before the next election, and putting the power of candidate nominations back in the hands of local constituencies.
2. It will help keep party leaders in check by giving the MPs in each party the power to trigger a leadership review vote and remove abusive leaders from power.
3. It would give MPs, not the party leader, the final say over whether a given MP should be permitted to sit in their caucus.
This bill has already received the support of MPs from both sides of the House of Commons. Even the Conservative Caucus has given permission to all its MPs to vote freely on this bill.
GCV: What do you think will be the political consequences if they pass the unfair elections law in June and once passed, can it be repealed if another party is voted into office?
RS: Should the law pass, it will become an election issue that will be used against the Conservatives in 2015. This is a highly unpopular law that paints the Conservative Party as undemocratic. As such, it will be used against them in 2015.
As to whether or not it can be repealed if another party is voted into office the answer is yes. It can be repealed, but there has to be sufficient pressure from the public to ensure this actually happens.
GCV: How will the unfair election law effectively stop any further investigation into possible election fraud in the future and how will The Reform Act neutralize the consequences of this action?
RS: The Unfair Elections Act will affect fraud investigations in two big ways. First, it does not address the root problem of investigators not having the ability to compel testimony during their investigations. Without this power they cannot get to the bottom of investigations like those surrounding the robocall scandal. Second, this act will move fraud investigators from Elections Canada to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This means that investigators will no longer be accountable to parliament, but rather to the cabinet. This change in oversight will politicize investigations and make them less transparent.
GCV: Why do you surmise there is such a rush to push this bill through?
RS: The Conservative government is rushing this bill for two reasons. First, Elections Canada has said that any reforms to the Election Act have to be passed by the Spring of 2014 to be implemented by the 2015 elections. This gives the Conservatives a narrow time frame to stack the deck in their favour for the next federal elections.
Second, the Conservatives know this is a highly unpopular bill. The longer this bill is debated the longer the opposition has to warn the wider population about this. That is why they refused to do cross-country consultations. They are simply afraid of what people will do when they find out about this bill.
GCV: How has Leadnow gained a positive reputation in rallying people to take action since your humble beginning? How many active participants do you have now and how high do you foresee the numbers growing in the future. What causes do you focus on the most at Leadnow?
RS: At Leadnow we engage people in Canada with online campaigns across issues to build an ever larger values based community willing to take a range of actions on issues they care about and by doing that to shift the needle that decision makers use towards a more progressive future. We are at just over 325,000 after only 3 years and growing. The Leadnow community is spread across every part of the country, all ages, and across the political spectrum. Our three issue areas are Climate, Democracy and the Fair Economy. All of our work and direction is led by our community members through regular consultation and feedback.
GCV: What is your message to Canadians regarding the urgent request and call to action about voter suppression?
RS: The Conservatives are starting to budge on the issue. While their rhetoric continues to be that of adamantly opposing any changes to their bill, insiders tell us some amendments are already underway that will change the parts relating to vouching. However, these proposed amendments to the bill still do nothing about the other problems of the bill like the spending loopholes or the muzzling of Elections Canada. Now that we know the Conservatives are afraid of the public opinion, we have to increase the pressure and tell them to kill this bill entirely.
GCV: How active is the younger generation in this movement and do you see the numbers growing in the future?
RS: Many people interpret the low youth voter turnout during elections to mean that young people do not care about politics or current issues. In reality, however, youth is one of the most engaged demographic. Low voter turnouts have more to do with political parties not representing young people than with young people not caring. Youth is the backbone of the climate movement. It is the energizer of the democracy movement and the biggest proponent for a new and fair economy. The youth climate movement and the calls for democratic reform and a fair economy are growing every day, especially as we see politicians ignoring our calls for change day after day.
Elections Act changes drawing scrutiny from Conservatives
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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