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Democracy Watch applauds Liberal government’s initial changes to Canada Elections Act but many more changes needed for fair, democratic elections

Representative public consultation needed on electoral reform, and Supreme Court reference case on vote percentage threshold

Changes also still needed to stop false election promises, make every vote count, allow none-of-the above vote, ensure democratic nomination races, stop big money, stop misleading robocalls, regulate election debates, strengthen independence of enforcement agencies and their enforcement powers, and to increase penalties

Thursday, November 24, 2016

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch applauded the initial changes that the federal Liberal government’s Bill C-33 makes to the Canada Elections Act but called for many more changes to ensure fair and democratic federal elections. Bill C-33 makes the following three changes that Democracy Watch and others have called for since the Conservatives’ enacted their so-called “Fair Elections Act” in 2014:

  1. Empowers the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to conduct and provide funding to broad voter turnout public education programs (the Conservatives had limited education to “how to vote” instructions);
  2. Allows one voter to “vouch” for the identity of one other voter (the Conservatives had prohibited this vouching), and;
  3. Allows voters to use the voter registration card (VIC) as ID for voting.

As well, Bill C-33 removes the restrictions on Canadians living abroad voting – a 1993 change to the Act had prohibited Canadians from voting if they lived more than five years outside Canada and did not intend to return to become a resident of Canada again.

“The Liberal government’s bill makes some initial changes to remove barriers to voting that the Conservatives set up in 2014, but many more changes are needed to ensure fair and democratic federal elections,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The other key changes are to stop false election promises, make every vote count, allow none-of-the above vote, ensure democratic nomination races, stop big money donations, stop misleading robocalls, regulate election debates, strengthen the independence and transparency of enforcement agencies and their enforcement powers, and to increase penalties.”

Democracy Watch called for these changes in its submission to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. The submission calls on the federal Liberal government to take two immediate actions, and for all federal parties to work together to make 20 key changes to ensure democratic and fair federal elections.

The two immediate actions that the federal Liberal government must take are:

  1. Undertake a meaningful, demographically representative public consultation: As detailed in the Democracy Watch op-ed set out here, a referendum can be a meaningful consultation method but there are other methods that are just as valid. Neither the Committee nor the government has used a meaningful consultation method so far because the hearings, town halls, online questionnaire all involve submissions by self-selected people, and so they are not demographically representative of Canadian voters. And while media reports say the Liberals are planning to mail a postcard to 13 million households directing them to an online survey, people who complete the survey will still be self-selected (and an online survey can also be filled out several times by one person). To ensure that Canadians’ values are upheld in any changes that are made (which the federal Liberals have committed to do in every decision they make), a meaningful consultation using either the best-practice study-circle method or constituent assembly method should be undertaken before any changes are implemented.
  2. The government should refer a case to the Supreme Court to rule on whether a vote percentage threshold is constitutional: If the voting system is changed to include proportionality in some way, most commentators propose that, as in other countries, there should be a national threshold of percentage of votes (of 3-5%) that a party would have to obtain in order to be represented in the House of Commons. However, according to two past rulings by the courts (Figueroa v. Canada (Attorney General), [2003] 1 S.C.R. 912, 2003 SCC 37 (CanLII) and Longley v. Canada (Attorney General), 2007 ONCA 149 (CanLII)), it may not be constitutional to have a threshold. To determine the constitutionality of a threshold, the government should refer a case to the Supreme Court for a ruling before any changes are made to the Canada Elections Act (CEA).

Democracy Watch also called on all federal parties to work together to make the following 20 key changes to ensure democratic and fair federal elections:

  1. Prohibit parties and candidates from baiting voters with false election promises or advertising, and from breaking election promises (unless truly unforeseen circumstances require them to be broken).
  2. Do not implement mandatory voting as it violates the right of voters to refuse to endorse a candidate or party, and instead create a right to refuse to cast a ballot (as voters in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan have in their provincial elections) or to vote “none of the above” and require election commissions to report how many Canadians do so (so voters can, if they want to, send a clear message that they do not support any of the candidates or political parties).
  3. Change the federal election voting system to provide a more accurate representation of the popular vote results in each election in the seats held by each party in the federal House of Commons (as in many other countries) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in Parliament), and also to actually fix election dates for late fall every four years (an actual vote on non-confidence occurs earlier).
  4. Regulate nomination races to ensure party leaders can’t appoint candidates or stop candidates from running (other than on grounds of “good character” such as no criminal convictions) and to ensure nomination races are conducted in a fair, transparent, and democratic manner by giving Elections Canada the power to run nomination races and enforce the rules.
  5. The federal political finance system must be democratized by: reducing the annual donation and loan limits to an amount an average voter can afford (ie. $100-200, as in Quebec); reinstating the annual per-vote funding for parties along with public funding matching donations raised annually by parties and leading up to and during elections by candidates (as in Quebec), and; requiring disclosure of all gifts and donations to all types of candidates (including donations of volunteer labour).
  6. As part of the changes to the political finance system, restrict pre-election ad spending by parties and candidates (including via their riding association) and by third parties.
  7. Have Elections Canada determine the date and number of election debates, and oversee them, with the leader of every party that won at least 5% of the popular vote in the last election or that has at least one MP in the House of Commons allowed to participate, and require all broadcasters to broadcast the debates.
  8. Allow independent candidates to raise money in-between elections.
  9. Change the federal Referendum Act to allow for petitions leading to referendums, and also in all the other applicable ways recommended in this submission (especially concerning political finance and spending).
  10. Prohibit online voting as it is presents a very real danger to the integrity of voting results according to almost all computer technologists including Stanford University’s David Dill who was one of the organizers of the statement by technologists warning of the dangers of online voting.
  11. Empower Elections Canada to appoint all election workers – currently political parties and candidates who won or came second in the previous election have the dangerously unethical power to force returning officers to appoint the deputy returning officers, poll clerks, registration officers and central poll supervisors that they choose.
  12. Empower Elections Canada to appoint the auditors for all the parties, riding associations and candidates – currently these entities choose their own auditors (which is a recipe for abuse and corruption).
  13. Make the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, actually independent by requiring them to be approved by at least a majority of opposition party leaders.
  14. Require (finally) that Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE) disclose the results of investigations and rulings on all complaints, and require the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to publish their reasons whenever they decide not to prosecute or agree to a plea deal, so they can be held accountable if they make unfair, biased or improper rulings or enforcement decisions.
  15. Require anyone or any entity that uses robocalls to file a copy of each robocall script and recording, and a list of the numbers called, with the CRTC for the CRTC to keep for 5 years, and require political parties to keep a record of who accesses their voter database, and make it a violation for political parties to allow their database to be misused.
  16. Increase the amount of all proposed fines to a level that will actually discourage violations (all the fines in the Canada Elections Act should be 10 times higher) and require courts to impose the maximum fine unless extraordinary circumstances mean it would be unjust to do so.
  17. Give voters up to one year to challenge a fraudulent election result (voters only have 30 days now), and remove the requirement that a voter must give written notice to the returning officer when the voter applies to a judge for a recount (as that makes it more difficult to challenge election results).
  18. Give the Commissioner of Canada Elections (CCE), and the CRTC, the clear power to apply for a court order that compels a person to testify, or a person or entity to disclose records, needed to investigate alleged violations of the CEA (as Elections Canada recommended in its 2012 report, and as election watchdogs in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Yukon, and Australia and the U.S. can do, and as the Competition Bureau of Canada can do).
  19. Require political parties, riding associations, candidates and third parties to provide any document requested by Elections Canada or the CCE to confirm compliance with the CEA, as recommended by Elections Canada.
  20. Give whistleblowers a financial reward if they disclose evidence to Elections Canada, the CCE, or the CRTC that leads to a conviction.
  21. Extend the federal Privacy Act and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to cover political parties, riding associations and political candidates, as Elections Canada recommended in its 2012 report.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Democratic Voting Systems Campaign and Money in Politics Campaign