Conservatives targeting Elections Canada

It comes as no surprise that the Conservatives have unilaterally decided to target Elections Canada to “strengthen” democracy. During every election in which Stephen Harper has run as a candidate, the Conservative Party has had serious disputes with Elections Canada over violations of the Elections Act.

With their new “Unfair Elections Act”, the Conservatives are trying to prohibit Elections Canada from raising awareness about the importance of voting. At a time when political cynicism is rampant and voter turnout is increasingly low, how can anyone seriously think that muzzling the Chief Electoral Officer will strengthen democracy?

By severely limiting Elections Canada’s powers to increase electoral engagement in Canada—which clearly need improving—and by making it much harder for students, seniors and Aboriginal people to vote, the Conservatives win the award for the worst electoral reform proposal to date.

The Conservatives are wrong to say that it is the responsibility of political parties to encourage Canadians to vote. The right to vote is a vital democratic principle that has nothing to do with partisan politics.

During the last election, all the major parties launched appeals to “get out the vote”, yet the participation rate was less than 60%. Only 38.8% of young people aged 18–24 and 45.1% of 25–34 year olds voted. Although the level of education in Canada is on the rise, voter turnout is not. This makes no sense.

As a former teacher, I deplore the fact that the government is attacking the work done by Elections Canada in schools. Programs like Student Vote have been very effective in encouraging young people to participate in the electoral system‎.

During the last election campaign, more than 500,000 Canadian students learned about the voting system and were encouraged to participate in school elections thanks to the advocacy work of Elections Canada. This work is extremely important.

Experiential learning plays a vital role in fostering students’ interest in politics. Ensuring that young people develop the skills to make them active citizens who are interested in the democratic process is absolutely essential. There is no question that Elections Canada has a role to play in civic education.

Young people need to know that they have a real voice in Ottawa. That’s not what the Harper Conservatives are offering. It’s time for a genuine reform to ensure that all Canadians can exercise their right to vote.

How long will we have to wait for a proportional representation voting system? The NDP has been calling on Parliament to adopt a new electoral system for years, and recently launched a petition calling for change.

We must reject Stephen Harper’s reform. Follow our campaign on social media to support Elections Canada’s important outreach initiatives, and attend the public meetings we will be holding across Quebec this spring to address this issue.

We encourage students and teachers to write to the Minister to voice their concerns.

Together, we can defeat the “Unfair Elections Act”.

Join the more than 10,000 Canadians who have already signed the NDP petition to protect Canadian democracy.