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Democracy less than advertised


Canadians are rightfully proud that our system of running democratic, honest elections are a model for the world.

In fact, emerging democracies send delegations to Canada to study our electoral system, to help their own countries develop more free and fair government.

But as data mining becomes prevalent in our digital age, there are a few examples that raise red flags against copying our system entirely. Democracy here is becoming somewhat less than advertised.

And there doesn’t seem to be much will in the halls of power to improve safeguards. Just the opposite, in fact.

It is already evident the current system does not give everyone equal consideration.

That is as much because a huge swath of our citizenry refuses to vote. But there is also little desire within our political system to acknowledge that its structure is skewed overwhelmingly toward older, richer voters, much less to do anything about it.

Three news stories over the weekend can illustrate.

First, let’s look at a report from pollster Nik Nanos. Studying the data from the last federal election, he says that if 60 per cent of young voters had come to the polls in 2011 (instead of 40 per cent, as was the case), Stephen Harper would probably not have a majority government today.

As it was, 60 per cent of the general population voted in 2011, meaning the turnout of older voters exceeded that mark by quite a margin.

As a result, says Nanos, guess what issues were top of the agenda? Health care, taxes, jobs, right? If issues of importance to youth were included at the same degree, the 2011 election (and the policies of the winning party) would have been more about the environment and education.

As well, says Nanos, young voters showed themselves in polls to be much more likely to believe that good solutions to problems are available. Unlike older voters, who more strongly believe that change is difficult and expensive.

Ironic, then, that young people did not vote “because my vote doesn’t count” in the current system. And not ironic at all, that the desires of older voters — who don’t believe that change is possible — got what they voted for: no change.

Now switch to the next weekend news flash: the Parti Québécois is worried that young people — students in particular — might actually vote in their provincial election.

If you’ve lived in Quebec for six months, have a Quebec bank account, and reasonably believe you could make Quebec your home, you can vote.

But students who have been living (and paying taxes) in Quebec for years are being turned away from registration offices by government clerks.

Meanwhile, justice minister Bertrand St-Arnaud declared: “We don’t want this election stolen by people from Ontario and the rest of Canada.” Meaning students.

Thus, the PQ created its new scapegoat. Remember how Jacques Parizeau said, after the loss of his referendum on independence, that “money and the ethnics” had stolen that vote. New times, new excuses — a new group to persecute.

So the PQ decided to get tough against an identifiable group of young voters, and seek to deny them their right to vote.

Roger Rivard, an election official in St-Henri-St-Anne in Montreal said he had turned away dozens of would-be voters, who arrived with documentation in hand proving they were eligible to vote. Better safe than sorry, in his view. And then he quit his job.

More, the PQ is demanding that the verification process for new voters be extended long past the election, so that investigations could be demanded in lost ridings.

All the while, the Quebec elections office is reporting no great influx of new voter registrations. Nobody is “stealing” the Quebec election.

If anyone can steal elections it will be political parties themselves, under the federal government’s new Fair Elections Act. This is News Story Three.

Parties — using temporary and untrained partisan volunteers — will be given unfettered access to voter lists, which could contain highly sensitive information (like bank and credit card numbers) of voters who used these statements to prove residency and eligibility to vote. Privacy laws do not apply to political parties, says former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley.

Party workers will also be able to quickly assess who has or has not voted on election day, to get their supporters out to the polls.

Well enough, but they can also be able to try to keep other voters out — perhaps using the next version of robo-calls, perhaps (like the PQ is attempting) — to deny citizens their voting rights in the first place.

The world is filled with examples of elections that are are neither fair or free. As we can see, even our own governments are unreliable protectors of democracy, especially once the campaign is on.

If you are eligible to vote, you must vote when called to do so. More, you must insist on it, or you may end up like the young voters in Quebec — a demographic whose rights are being denied.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

 
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