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A Democracy Reliant on Bits of Paper and Cardboard Boxes

The people of Quebec voted yesterday and they voted overwhelmingly against separation from Canada and the PQ government’s Charter of Secular Values which took away the freedom of religious expression from some citizens. They also voted for something else – civility.

Quebecers are passionate about their politics but for the most part, the debate is usually quite civil. This election was noteworthy for it’s vicious personal attacks, especially by the PQ. The attacks were so low that there were times when it seemed more like a federal than a typical Quebec election.

The voters in Quebec sent a message that the government belongs to them and that they will not support the level of negativity and attack campaigning so prevalent at the federal level.

The federal Conservatives might want to consider that. They initially enjoyed some  support in Quebec back in the days when Stephen Harper was playing nice in an attempt to get a majority but once the party switched from unity messaging to attacking any who disagreed with them, their popularity in Quebec has plummeted. as it seems to be in other parts of the country.

The Quebec election reminded me again of the power of democracy when it is exercised by the people and its weakness when it is taken for granted.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a vigorous debate going on over the Harper Government’s Fair Elections Act. You may not have noticed because recent surveys have indicated that fewer than 20% of Canadians are actually engaged in the issue although a majority of Canadians are fully up to speed on the final episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’. They didn’t like it, by the way, but seem quite ambivalent about the Fair Elections Act which ought to give you some idea of just how seriously many Canadians take their democracy.

I don’t say that lightly and I’m not alone in my criticism of the act. Pretty much every major authority on elections and democratic processes both nationally and internationally have criticized this bill; the latest being former Auditor General Sheila Fraser.

Ms Fraser isn’t a partisan, anti-Conservative hack. She is the same Auditor General who exposed the Liberal’s Sponsorship scandal and who dedicated her career to ferreting out government waste, inefficiency and violation of statute and process – something to which the current Conservative government claims it is committed. Ms Fraser was their hero when they were in opposition and she would nail the government for waste and violation of process but they’re not so happy with her now.

There is even a move afoot among Conservative ranks to challenge her integrity with claims that she was ‘hired’ by Elections Canada to present biased testimony against the government’s Fair Elections Act. That’s pretty sleazy even for the thugs in the Harper government and it’s wrong.

Along with folks like Preston Manning, Ms Fraser was brought in by Elections Canada as a consultant to advise them on ways to improve elections in Canada. Her contract ran from Dec. 31 2013 to March 31, 2014 and she made the princely sum of $2,450. To suggest that she would sell her professional integrity and impartiality for such a trivial amount is an indication of just how concerned the government is about criticism of this terribly flawed legislation.

While there are many serious issues that need to removed or reconsidered, the big one that has most of those who are engaged in this issue wagging their tongues is voter ID and vouching.

Vouching is the process whereby an eligible voter who has proper personal identification can verify the identity and address of another eligible voter who doesn’t. A person can only vouch once and the person who was vouched – so to speak – cannot vouch for someone else.

It, like so much Canadian, is an archaic system that dates back to a time when we trusted each other more than we seem to these days. Typically those being vouched for were seniors along with some aboriginals and students. Those doing the vouching were usually family members or close friends.

There were, however, a few irregularities with vouching in the last federal election – approximately 55, 000 of them according to the Neufeld Report on the 2011 election and that stiffened the hairs on the back of the neck of Pierre Piddley-pants, Canada’s Minister for Democratic Reform.

He immediately set out to protect our electoral system from such rampant voter fraud which was nice of him considering that there was no voter fraud in the last election. The irregularities were administrative errors made by various paid volunteers working for Elections Canada at polling stations across the country and were not attempts by voters to game the process.

The only fraud and other charges that were laid by Elections Canada were laid against politicians and their parties.

In fact, the report’s author has categorically denied any voter fraud and told a Parliamentary Committee that the good minister had got it wrong. Undaunted, Minister Piddley-Pants surged forward with his reform legislation suggesting that the report’s author didn’t understand his own report and this week, has engaged in an unbelievable personal attack on the head of Elections Canada.

In Canada, you are required to show identification when you vote. That identification is meant to verify that you are who you say you are and that you live where you say you live. Both of those are legitimate safeguards to the integrity of the process and there is no reason why an eligible voter shouldn’t be required to show proper identification when voting.

The problem is that we don’t have available as many pieces of photo ID with our addresses as many engrossed in this debate seem to think we have.

All provinces issue driver’s licenses with photo ID and your address which is fine if you drive but if you don’t drive; it starts to get a bit sticky – especially considering that unlike most provinces, the Canadian government doesn’t accept a Canadian passport as proof that you are who you say you are even though they believed you are who you say you are when they issued you the passport.

Many provinces now issue health cards with photo ID but usually only to those who don’t have a driver’s license. I didn’t know that until I did some research which means that if for any reason I could no longer drive, I wouldn’t have realized that I could replace my non-photo ID health card with one that did have photo ID and that, my friends, would have meant that Maggie would have had to vouch for me in the next election because I wouldn’t have had valid photo ID but under the new act, she couldn’t vouch for me which means . . . See how that works?

It isn’t just the edges of society that can be disenfranchised by the lack of thinking in this bill.

Peter Piddley-drawers solution is to eliminate one piece of paper (the voter ID card) and allow any combination of 39 other pieces of paper including utility bills as valid identification. It seems to me that if you were going to commit electoral fraud, duplicating a fraudulent utility bill is pretty much as easy as duplicating a fraudulent voter ID card.

What astounds me is that so much of the debate is over identification and vouching based on a systemic approach that is about fifty years behind the times.

Christ in Heaven! This is 2014 and paper is as irrelevant as thinking seems to have become. The Minister for Democratic Reform has proposed changes to how we vote which still involve bits of paper and cardboard boxes. It is unbelievable!

I carry in my wallet, small pieces of plastic that have mag stripes and chips that will connect to databases and conduct transactions. My bank card allows me to walk into a store, make a purchase and pay for it with my card which connects my bank and the merchant’s bank, completes the transaction and updates both the merchant’s and my bank accounts all in about 30 seconds and pretty much from anywhere in the world.

My health card puts my doctor and/or the hospital in touch with the provincial health registry which authorizes the expenditure of my treatment. I even have an Air Miles card that updates how many air miles I have accumulated every time I make a purchase.

My cards identify me. They have a unique number on them that coupled with my unique PIN provides me access to whatever it is I’m accessing and ensures that whatever database is tracking those transactions is immediately updated.

Why are we wasting time debating pieces of paper like utility bills and voter ID cards? Why are we trying to tinker with an electoral system that was developed a century ago rather than bringing it into the 21st Centruy?

Issue every eligible voter in Canada with a plastic voter card that has their photo and a unique number on it. The voter creates their own PIN. A voter database already exists so all you need to do is update the software so that it recognizes each voter by their unique ID and pin combination.

Difficult? I don’t think so. Our banks do it every day, all day long, with their customers. The technology has existed since the ‘80s when CIBC first introduced electronic banking.

Instead of 60,000 plus polling stations spread all over creation, let voters cast their ballot on line with the same simplicity that most of us do online banking. Log in with your identification number and your pin; up pops a ballot for your riding; make your selection and hit enter. Your ballot is recorded and added to the vote total of the candidate for whom you voted and your ID is now blocked from casting another ballot until the next election.

For those without computers or internet access – Kiosks with internet access set up in shopping centres, nursing homes, hospitals etc will do just fine. For those few truly remote areas, send in electoral officers who will manually confirm who you are from your voter ID card, give you a paper ballot and you can scrawl your X.

All voters should identify themselves; that’s a given so why in God’s name are we fooling around with all kinds of bloody bits of paper trying to make an overly complex, antique system work? If Pierre Piddley-Pants had been truly concerned with voter fraud he would have had the balls, not to mention the intellectual capacity, to propose moving voter ID into the 21st century rather than using his Fair Elections Act as a cheap way to publicly slap Elections Canada and to make it yet more difficult for some voters to cast their ballots.

As for those arguing about vouching, it would be good if we could move on and start addressing the real flaws with this legislation – like putting more control of our elections in the hands of the same political parties that are committing the fraud and violations.

That, my friends, is the real threat to our democracy and is the same corruption that people we support in places like Syria and Ukraine are fighting while we sit here at home in our comfortable democracy refusing to believe that our government would erode our rights and freedoms for their own advantage.

Forget citizen apathy – blind partisanship and abject stupidity may yet be the death of our democracy because there is more to defending it than relying on bits of paper shoved into cardboard boxes.



© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear – ivmaki@sympatico.ca



  • oldwhiteguy

    just a couple of thoughts on the whole thing… vouching is currently used in the passport application…. health cards usually do not have a address on them even if they have a picture… I would like to know that those who are voting are indeed citizens and live in the riding in which they are voting… as far as a card with a unique number, well, we do all have a SIN number… the system while old is not broken. a few simple things could be done and I am sure some of the many posters will put forth a few ideas.

    • MaggiesBear

      You raise a good point about vouching and I agree with you about proof of citizenship.I find it more than just odd that federal government wont accept a passport as ID but has no issue with a hydro bill.

      • oldwhiteguy

        I think the address is the problem. I do not have a passport but use an EDL. is there an address on a passport? using a hydro bill without supporting id is just foolish is it not? I thought that blogging tory readers would have been more concerned about this but I guess I was wrong.

  • Brenton Siddons

    reasoned criticism is healthy but resorting to childhood piddly-panty name calling makes you look like an ass

    • MaggiesBear

      I think he is behaving like a petulant child and undeserving of any respect whatsever.

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