If you have been following the Fair Elections Act debate in
Ottawa you may have heard alarmist language applied from opposition and media that this bill is an unprecedented attack on democracy. This of course raises the obvious question is the Fair Elections Act an unprecedented assault on our democratic process? The answer is of course open to debate, much as it should be in any healthy democratic environment. However there is another developing aspect emerging to this discussion that concerns me greatly. Although it is fair to say critics have targeted a number of items to this bill (prior to Government responding with some 45 proposed amendments) the single greatest concern has focussed on vouching- a concern that is also addressed by a recent an amendment. Vouching for those who are unfamiliar in essence allows someone to declare their identity without producing acceptable identification, in this case to vote in a Federal election.
Locally of course requiring identification to vote is not unusual given that we use identification to determine voting eligibility between municipal boundaries and that of regional districts and by extension voting on consent for referendums on borrowing by-laws and other large scale
projects and referendums. In many cases identification and proof of residency are of course used to verify those eligible to vote are the same citizens who will be required to pay on the initiative in question. We also require identification as we recognize that at times there may be ratepayers with strong opinions on particular issues and it is important that one citizen cannot vote
more than once. These are the principles of fairness that we use in local elections to ensure the integrity of our democratic voting process. Yet at the Federal level– it is currently possible to vouch for identity without showing approved identification, through a process known as vouching. Much debate has occurred on the reasonableness or lack of reasonableness on requiring
identification to vote federally, as we typically do municipally with local government. Some have even suggested this is a constitutional issue, pointing out that the Charter guarantees “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”.
It deserves mention that charter rights apply to citizens of Canada– how are our rights and privileges as Canadians verified without proof of identification that confirms we are indeed Canadian citizens? And by extension would we support vouching at our border crossings that individuals entering Canada can claim to be Canadians without showing identification as proof? The answer to this question is also up for debate as there are some who do support vouching and feel it is unreasonable to require identification. My intent in this week’s report is not actually to enter into the debate on how reasonable it is (or is not) to require identification to
vote. I submit that every Canadian citizen has views on how reasonable it is (or is not) to require identification as part of our democratic process and I believe that is a healthy discussion in a democratically diverse country such as Canada.
hat troubles me in the vouching debate as it pertains to the Fair Election Act is that the opinions of everyday Canadians seem to fall to the wayside. If you follow Ottawa media reports it is commonly suggested that only “experts” and not everyday citizens are capable of forming an opinion on the
reasonableness of requiring ID to vote. We should always be mindful that we do not live in a technocratic society ruled by bureaucracy; we are an inclusive democratic society that draws in the views of all Canadians including experts and at time other stakeholders and specific interest groups. In this case, what the experts seldom point out is that currently 85% of our Canadian voting population currently has a drivers licence and this percentage rises considerably higher when you include the other 39 types of ID Elections Canada accepts in order to vote. In reality we know voter turnout is far less than 85% of registered voters-requiring identification is not the reason for declining voter turnout. In fact many of those currently employed by taxpayers to increase voter turnout are the very same experts in Ottawa arguing for the status quo to
prevail. Collectively we must all accept responsibility for declining voter participation and in particular those of us who are elected officials should be the first to shoulder the blame.
What is causing decreased voter turnout? I submit part of the decline is evident in the debate on the Fair Elections Act– I believe every Canadian is entitled to have an opinion on the reasonableness (or lack of) to requirement ID to vote. The question of if it is reasonable
requiring ID to vote is a matter of personal opinion; it is not a matter of “expert” conclusion as some in Ottawa are suggesting. That so many ”experts” (including some who have never worked or volunteered in an election) along with a willing media that in many cases does not recognize the dissenting views from everyday citizens is in my view troubling. I mention this as the feedback I have heard from many citizens is at odds with the tone in Ottawa. I am not suggesting
that all citizens support the Fair Elections Act, many have taken the time to express concerns, some even outright opposition however many have also made also made it clear they strongly support the act including the reasonableness to show identification to vote no differently that exists in other elections at different levels of government. I continue to welcome your comments and questions on the Fair Elections Act or any bill before Parliament.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament elect for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.