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NWT chapter presents to House of Common committee on electoral reform

The Council of Canadians Northwest Territories (NWT) chapter presented to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform on September 30 in Yellowknife.

Chapter activist Lois Little told the committee, “When millions of votes in every federal election are wasted and results don’t reflect the popular vote, it is no wonder people say they are too busy to vote or aren’t interested in politics. It is outrageous that a party can end up with more than half the seats in the House of Commons, and have a monopoly on decision making and shaping public policy when they are elected with 39% of the popular vote or by less than 25% of eligible voters. This just sends the message over and over that as citizens we don’t count and as politicians you don’t care or want us to care or participate in shaping our government.”

She highlighted, “The NWT is unique just like every region of Canada is unique and we should be able to see ourselves and our importance in the House of Commons. The best opportunity we have to do this is through a mixed member proportional system of voting so we can elect our own MP and ensure the number of seats in the House of Commons won by each party reflects the popular vote. MMP would strengthen representation. It is compatible with the way we choose MLAs in the NWT in our consensus government which generally works, and it allow us to be part of the broader party system that functions in the 11 other jurisdictions. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Little then cautioned, “We can tinker with representation but if we don’t have strong election law, people and parties can still steal our democracy which is the case now with the Fair Elections Act. The Fair Elections Act is anything but fair and I’m glad that Justin Trudeau committed to repealing it. Election law needs to recognize that many northern communities don’t have street addresses and many northerners don’t have ID proving their residency. And many northerners come from the experience of not being recognized as citizens with the right to vote.”

And she concluded by telling the committee, “Election law must unmuzzle the Chief Electoral Officer and empower Elections Canada to be a non-partisan, independent facilitator of open, transparent, and fully participatory federal elections. And it must empower Elections Canada to audit election campaign spending to ensure that no one party or individual has an advantage and no particular interests have the opportunity to buy candidates or a political party.”

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform will be presenting its report to the House of Commons on December 1. The Liberals have then set a deadline of May 2017 to introduce legislation on electoral reform. That’s when we will see what they will put forward in terms of their election promise to look at “ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting”.

And as Little noted in her presentation, the Liberals promised during the last election: “We will repeal the anti-democratic elements in Stephen Harper’s Fair Elections Act, which make it harder for Canadians to vote and easier for election lawbreakers to evade punishment. We will restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification. We will also increase penalties so that there are real deterrents for deliberately breaking our election laws.”

The process and timeline for changes to the Fair Elections Act is less clear. The mandate for the Special Committee on Electoral Reform does not make a direct reference to the Fair Elections Act.

In late-February, iPolitics reported, “Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef is waiting for additional Elections Canada reports on the 2015 federal election before deciding how to fulfill her mandate letter instruction to repeal elements of the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act.”

On September 27, the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada, made his report to Parliament. CTV reports, “He urged the government to restore the use of voter information cards as valid pieces of ID at polling stations and to make it easier to vouch for someone without ID. He also recommended restoring the chief electoral officer’s power to conduct voter education and information campaigns. [And he recommended] empowering the elections commissioner, who investigates violations of election laws, to apply for a court order to compel testimony in investigations and to lay a charge on his own, without the prior approval of the director of public prosecutions.”

The next federal election is scheduled to take place on October 21, 2019.