Electoral Reform Coming But Wait Nobody Told Elections Canada

Yes that title is correct. The ruling Conservative party will present a bill to reform Canadian election laws this Thursday and while that seems like a good thing, someone forgot to run any of the proposed changes by Elections Canada.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal announced, “Our government is pleased to announce that it will introduce comprehensive legislation on Thursday to improve the integrity, accountability and administration of Canada’s election laws. The new legislation will respond to the motion passed by the House of Commons last year and a recommendation made by the chief electoral officer, the procedure and House affairs committee and others.” This announcement comes only seven months late on the March 2012 non-binding NDP motion calling for changes to election laws, which was unanimously agreed upon.

While this is not a new thing (first consulting with Elections Canada), one would think, no one would hope, that in light of the robocall affair currently before the courts that more would be done. But if the ruling party doesn’t consult Elections Canada or any other interested group just how far are they prepared to go? And that’s a very valid question considering the same Conservatives cut the budget of Elections Canada while the biggest electoral fraud investigation in Canadian history was taking place. Yes, as absurd as that sounds – that’s what they brazenly did.

The Conservatives loves to remind Canadians of Adscam, but what they always leave out is the reaction of the Liberal Party under PM Paul Martin. Martin knew full-well that the Gomery Commission would spell electoral disaster for his party but as history shows – his government did the right thing anyways. So why won’t the Conservative party under PM Harper do the same? It’s not like we are talking about Canada-wide electoral fraud or anything. And if you follow the advice of MP Vic Toews, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.

Do what’s right and needed. Don’t just fiddle with the election laws, give them teeth and back them up with a fully-funded and supported Elections Canada.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

Peter Penashue – Deception or Ignorance?

With the case of Conservative MP Peter Penashue’s overspending, donation irregularities and airline write-offs one must ask as disdainful as it is, was he being purposely deceptive or was he just plain ignorant of the rules? In response to the allegations before him, Penashue hid away from the opposition and media and later reappeared in his home province where he released an online cop-out where he blamed his official agent for any mistakes.

Penashue’s official agent for the 2011 campaign was Reg Bowers who responded to Elections Canada at one point by stating, “Given the circumstances, record keeping and budgeting did not get the top priority. In the beginning we had very limited funds, we couldn’t get internet connection and, as mentioned, very limited help so there was a lot of wasted time running back and forth using my own computer and resources. We had to make the most of what we had and what we knew and I got advice wherever possible.”

In response to being blamed by Penashue, Bowers stated, “When it left my desk, it was under the cap.”

Bowers was removed as official agent for Penashue after being replaced by the Conservative Party’s chief financial officer. For his work Reg Bowers was rewarded with a golden position as a federal appointee on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

So with the overspending and irregularities in his electoral campaign return, including possible corporate donations, the question of deception or ignorance is a valid one. Penashue seems content to blame the official agent yet every single candidate for election in Canada must go through the same procedures in order to run for office and at the end for their candidate electoral campaign return. Penashue ran for the Conservative Party of Canada – the same party that likes to brag about their deep pockets and top-notch campaign team, yet this combo failed to stay within the rules and when caught out – flail about with blame.

So how is that candidates for the parties with no seats like the Christian Heritage Party or the Canadian Action Party who neither have deep pockets or election winning campaign strategists, managed to fill out their forms correctly and stay within the rules, but Penashue could not? They also had rookie official agents and candidates, and also had to wade through the same Elections Canada literature, regulations and forms – but with one glaring difference – they appear to have got it right and stayed within the rules.

Penashue should also explain how and why he signed his name to the following without knowing that everything was correct and within the rules:

Elections Canada form EC 20120 (all candidates must sign this declaration)

I hereby solemnly declare that to the best of my knowledge and belief:

– the information contained in this return is correct;
– all election expenses in respect of the conduct or management of the election have been properly recorded;
– no money, goods or services have been provided by way of loan, advance, deposit, contribution or gift during the election, except as appears in this return; and
– no other person or entity has, on behalf of the candidate made any payment or given, promised or offered any reward, office, employment or valuable consideration or incurred any liability on account of or in respect of the conduct or management of the election, except as specified in this return.

I make this solemn declaration conscientiously, believing it to be true and knowing that it is of the same force and effect as if made under oath and by virtue of the Canada Evidence Act.

To all of this Penashue has managed to say, “I’m not quitting, I’m not quitting. It’s very important to me that my constituents understand the allegations and the comments being made.” We would all like to understand how Penashue signed his name to the EC 20120 declaration without knowing if it was correct or not. Someone wishing to take on such an important role as MP should ensure that anything they put their name to is above-board and factually correct. Is that too much to ask?

So if there was no deception intended, was it down to just ignorance of the rules? Outside of Parliament each of us is held to our actions and in our places of work if we managed to bungle something so important and then sign our name to it – most would be facing the unemployment line. The least we can do is hold our elected officials to that same standard. PM Harper thus far is standing by his man.

Contributed to the Federal Politics Journal by Roy Whyte.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May Denied Spot In Leaders’ Debate

Just like the last federal election, the broadcast consortium has decided that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will not be allowed to address the nation in the debates. And just like last time – expect there to be an uproar and upwelling of support for Elizabeth May and our democratic institutions. It wasn’t only Green Party supporters who rallied to get May into the debates in 2008, there was also much support form non-Green voters because they realized the ramifications on our very democracy. When a party that fields candidates in every riding and qualifies for our tax dollars is not allowed in the debates – something is terribly wrong with our democracy. We should be working as hard as possible to open up our democratic system and have more involvement but this decision smacks that very notion down.

Now of course, just like in 2008, the biggest supporters of the ban are the Conservative party and their followers who are already trembling with excitement at the thought of one less voice against their party. What they fail to realize is that this action polarizes our national stage and ensures that some undecided voters will not go to the Conservatives this election. Maybe they don’t care, or maybe they figure they have enough support without the undecided voters, but either way, these actions will stick on the party name. The Conservatives are already having a hard enough time playing nicely inside our democratic model without being seen as just doing more of the same.

At this point nearly 1 million Canadians who voted Green last election may not get to hear their chosen party speak. Youth who make up or would make up a significant portion of the Green Party vote are going to be further turned off our democratic model and this comes at a bad time when so few vote as it is. Why is it that the media consortium believes that a party that can field candidates in every riding is not worthy of being heard? Their cop-out answer – they don’t have any seats. If Canada had a modern voting system like most of the world the Greens would have seats – a couple dozen of them, but saddled with the first past the post system, they get shut out even though their vote count nearly echoes that of the Bloc. And speaking of the Bloc Quebecois, many Canadians outside of Quebec are asking why they have to see the Bloc leader whose party they cannot vote for, but the party they can vote for who will run a candidate in their riding cannot. It makes little sense.

The Federal Politics Journal would like to see a cut-off set high that would be the threshold for the debates – 90% of ridings must have a candidate fielded to have the party leader in the debates. Anyone familiar with the rules around our elections will know that is no easy feat. And any party that does meet that threshold should be heard by all – seats or no seats. Democracy is only healthy when it is not caged or constrained. Or in the case of the broadcast consortium – based on some formula they refuse to tell. How does that help democracy in Canada when an unelected group representing corporate interests get to decide whose voice is heard and whose is not? And if that doesn’t dispel the notion of a “left-wing” dominated media in Canada nothing will.

Two things remain – will Elizabeth May and the Green Party rally enough support to be included and will the other political parties say or do anything to help?