Feb 182011

The Ottawa Citizen reported Feb. 18, 2011 that Elections Canada’s spending has increased four-fold in recent years, at a time when voter turnout is declining.

In the 1984 election, 75.3 per cent of the electorate voted; in Canada’s most recent election, only 58.8 per cent showed up. (The 2006 election was an exception, with voter turnout up four percentage points over the 2004 election.) Overall spending by Elections Canada, $32 million in 1998-1999, is expected to reach $138.6 million this year. In an election year, add another $350 million. Program spending—the cost of enforcing party financing legislation, education, revising electoral boundaries, and improving computer mapping, etc.—has increased more than tenfold since the 1990s. It’s expected to reach $30.9 million this fiscal year, up from $2.6 million in 1998-1999.

Most of those increases are not Elections Canada’s fault. For example, the Conservative government passed a law fixing election dates, then broke its own law. Parliament’s changing regulations on voting—for example, banning the burqa at the polls, while not requiring voters casting absentee ballots to prove their identity—have sometimes tied EC in knots.

Problems surrounding Canada’s elections are the result of a lack of focus. Elections Canada is so determined to ensure that everyone can vote, they send teams to find homeless people under bridges and sign them up. The turnout among those “voters”—whose identity and “residence” are almost impossible to verify—is, of course, appallingly low. But there aren’t enough of them to bring the participation rate down as drastically as it has fallen.

While the four parties in the House of Commons, all chasing the same polls, come closer and closer to convergence—the “Conservatives” policy looks like a reprint of the Chrétien Liberals’ “Red Book”—the downstream media’s exclusive focus on the four parties in the House, that share $30 million a year of taxpayers’ money, leaves voters asking, “What’s the diff?” and staying home.

The media have simply failed to fulfill their responsibility to inform the electorate about all their options.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada should focus less on giving a ballot to anyone who wants to vote, and focus more on protecting the integrity of the ballot, by requiring anyone who wants to vote to prove they are eligible.

What’s required is a Voter Identification Number (VIN). The Social Insurance Number (SIN) won’t work, because Ottawa never gave it the protection needed to protect privacy; the SIN was only supposed to be used for access to government benefits, but Ottawa didn’t make other uses illegal—so when employers and financial institutions found it useful, there was no privacy protection. If you wanted to get a mortgage, you had to give up your SIN. The VIN should only be accessible to Elections Canada—by law, with severe penalties for unauthorized access.

While we’re at it, people who have shown contempt for the law—convicted felons—should not be allowed to help choose those who will have the power to make and revise those laws. Giving convicted criminals the vote was arguably one of the stupidest rulings ever to come out of our Supreme Court. Nor should they be allowed to draw pensions (although dependent families should not be cast into penury when their putative bread-winner is incarcerated; felons convicted of non-violent crimes should to be made to work, so they can pay restitution to their victims and support their families—but that’s another issue).

If carefully pre-qualified voters had an electronic voting card—or better, a biometric identifier—it wouldn’t matter if they wore a suit of armour to the polls. In the meantime, we need to recognize that the burqa is not required by the Qur’an. If Muslim women fear for their modesty, they should be allowed to show their picture ID and their faces to a female poll official.

That’s the least of our electoral problems!

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