'Mr. Speaker, the crisis in Canadian democracy is not that Canadians are voting more than once but that they are voting less than once. And this bill will... increase cynicism.'
Debate on Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act
After the last few Federal Elections, I was involved in more than a few conversations about elections and how to increase voter turnout. We talked about various ideas that we had come across that people thought would increase voter turnout.
These ideas ranged from penalizing people who did not vote, such as they do in Australia to rewarding people who do vote with tax breaks or otherwise. We discussed the reasons that people don’t vote and tried to think of ways that people could be encouraged to vote.
Bill C-23 does nothing to encourage voting and it does nothing to make voting easier. It does the contrary. The Harper Party defenders of this bill keep saying that there are 39 pieces of information that can be used to allow you to vote. What they don’t tell you is that if you are living with someone else, such as your parents, or if you are elderly, or if you are a student living in a dormitory, you may not have access to most of these pieces of information.
But as Elizabeth May points out, the real issue is that not enough people are making the effort to vote.
But how do you counter people who think their vote doesn’t matter? It does matter, there are elections decided by a small number of votes every election.
It is your right and it should be your duty to vote in any election that you are allowed to vote in. There are people fighting and dying for the privilege of voting all over the world. But that doesn’t mean anything to some people.
But what is hard to defend is when an elected Member of the House of Commons cannot rise to speak to this bill simply because they are a Member of the House. Because of the imposition of time allocation, only the three main parties were allowed to speak to the bill. The only reason that Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Leader of the Green Party (a recognized federal political party) was able to speak was that the Liberal Party gave some of their allotted time to Ms. May.
How do you encourage people to vote when the people that they elect are not allowed to speak in the House of Commons?
And that is a huge part of the problem. Even if you do vote, your Member of Parliament will likely not be able to represent your interests anyway. They vote the Party Line and unless they are selected to be a Minister or a Critic in the House, they don’t get much of a chance to say anything at all. When the government decides to impose “Time Allocation” which is a polite way of saying “Closure” on a bill, your MP gets shoved even further back into the corner… even if they are the Leader of the Green Party.
This is why I keep hammering at the fact that “Democracy” is not limited to the day we cast our ballots, nor is it limited to the 30 days prior to that.
Democracy is the whole ball of wax. Voting is part of it. Debate and discourse is part of it. The Media should be part of it, that is if the government will answer their questions. And the House of Commons is supposed to be part of it too.
Every Member who wishes to speak in debate on a bill must have the right to speak, even if they are not the Official Critic or Minister or Party Leader.
They are hired to be our voices in the House of Commons. Any steps to stop them from speaking are decidedly UNdemocratic. Time Allocation and Closure do have their place in the House of Commons, but only if it is a dire situation where we need to have legislation passed quickly. Budget bills and C-23 don’t fall into this category.
If we want people to vote, maybe we should allow our Members to speak, all of them, to any bill that affects their constituents. If people see this, they might be more inclined to pick one, instead of letting people like me vote for them.
Elizabeth May gets this. It’s too bad the Harper Party does not.
When news came out that the Liberals had given some of their valuable time to Elizabeth May to speak on Bill C-23, some in the media were surprised. I wasn’t. Elizabeth May is a very smart person and a very effective speaker. She doesn’t smother us or the House with bafflegab, the favourite of some in the House. She speaks clearly to the issue in ways that most of us can understand, unless we wear Blue Sweater Vests I guess.
*Random Thought 2*
While Ms. May and I may not see eye to eye in all things, we are on the same page when it comes to Democracy. Of all the people who sit on the Hill, she is one of the few that I wouldn’t mind having coffee with.
That’s meant to be a compliment, I hope you take it that way Ms. May.