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Calkins’ letter doesn’t tell the full story

In his letter to the editor published on May 12, Conservative MP Blaine Calkins takes aim at his Liberal opponents for their criticisms of Bill C-23 (the Fair Elections Act). Calkins takes issue with what he calls “blatant misinformation” in an earlier letter by Kyle Morrow, and his stated purpose is to “correct these misleading statements.”

I am neither a Conservative nor a Liberal (nor any other species of political animal), but I share Calkins’ view that adherence to facts and avoidance of misrepresentations are crucial in any debate over proposed legislation. So let’s address some of the misleading aspects of Calkins’ letter.

On the topic of vouching (a part of the bill which the Conservatives seem all too happy to debate, arguably to distract from more important parts of the bill like the muzzling of the chief electoral officer), Calkins, like his Conservative colleagues including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, cites the Neufeld Report as evidence of “vouching irregularities,” leaving it to the reader to conclude that vouching is the cause of widespread voter fraud (never mind that the report makes no mention of fraud except for a reference to a court case where no fraud was found). What Calkins doesn’t mention is that the author of the report, Harry Neufeld, has stated publicly that Poilievre makes a “leap of logic” to say things that aren’t in the report, and that the government’s statements on the matter are “very much [Poilievre’s] conclusion from reading — I think quite selectively — parts of my report.”

Neufeld has also said that “any fair-minded person who reads that report would come to the conclusion that [Poilievre] has not been fair in his assessment of my findings.”

In the penultimate paragraph of his letter, Calkins states that “While Morrow and his Liberal Party friends continue to support the weakening of our democracy by supporting these risky practices, our government will continue to fight to ensure our democratic institutions are protected.” This statement would be laughable if the issue didn’t involve the foundations of our democratic system. The Conservative government has, in the view of most observers, shown no limit to its contempt of parliamentary officers and the courts (including the parliamentary budget officer, the privacy commissioner, the chief electoral officer and the Supreme Court of Canada).

Calkins’ reference to his government’s “protection” of democratic institutions brings to mind one other thing he failed to mention in his letter: that the government used its majority to shut down debate on the elections bill almost as soon as it began. I would have thought that if the bill was as “terrific” as the minister has said, the government would be proud to have it undergo a careful and thorough examination, especially considering that it’s a bill that deals with how Parliament is elected. What could be more fundamental to our democracy and deserving of careful scrutiny than that?

In any event, I hope that I have contributed to the correction of any “misleading statements” that might improperly influence voters.

Grant Watson

Red Deer

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