Democracy goes to work

Before the inevitable happened in Ottawa on Tuesday evening and Conservatives rose to vote for their overhaul of Canada’s election rules, we witnessed 99 days of acrimony and apocalyptic warnings and some of the worst features of our parliamentary system.

Before the inevitable happened in Ottawa on Tuesday evening and Conservatives rose to vote for their overhaul of Canada’s election rules, we witnessed 99 days of acrimony and apocalyptic warnings and some of the worst features of our parliamentary system.

In the end, however, we witnessed a little bit of the best as well.

First, the bad — it was 99 days that included Conservative MP Brad Butt’s hallucinatory vision of voter fraud (later withdrawn), Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre’s “sharper teeth, longer reach and a freer hand’’ talking points and unprecedented attacks on independent officers of Parliament.

It was 99 days that saw a government introduce a bill that would suppress voter turnout and dress it up with a name that evoked images of puppy dogs, then wave some non-controversial shiny parts of the bill and hope no one really took a harder look.

But we also saw 99 days during which independent officers of Parliament, past and present, including former auditor general Sheila Fraser, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand and former British Columbia elections official Harry Neufeld, took the Conservative hits but refused to waver.

We saw some of the best analysis we have recently seen from members of the parliamentary press gallery and the nation’s editorialists that kept the issue on the front burner and, most importantly, we saw at least a partial defeat for the cynicism of the Harper Conservatives — a cynicism built on a belief that they could race it through Parliament because Canadians wouldn’t pay attention, the opposition would sound like whiners and the country would not notice that they had stacked the deck.

It was an example of an issue that did escape the shrink-wrapped parliamentary precinct and was noticed by voters and, for that reason alone, this was not the full-on defeat for democracy where we once appeared headed.

And in the end, the bill passed with some 45 amendments.

Has democracy been saved or are we still headed to an electoral train wreck next year?

It is not accurate to call the amended bill a full victory for the opposition, despite the Poilievre climb down. It is still a flawed bill, and after 31 hours of committee study, testimony of 71 witnesses (almost all opposed), and NDP filibusters, virtually all of the close to 200 opposition amendments were rejected by the majority Conservatives, a government that treats opposition amendments as mere irritations.

Most of the changes announced by Poilievre appeared to be a result of what NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott called a “persuaded or somewhat fearful” Conservative backbench.

Poilievre did blink on the question of vouching, allowing those with ID, but without proof of an address, to vote if vouched for by another elector. He eliminated a fundraising provision that would have benefited deep-pocketed parties to spend more during the campaign.

But he did not give Mayrand the power to promote voting anywhere but primary and secondary schools, he would not accept voter notification cards for voting and he would not give the commissioner of elections, Yves Côté, the power to compel witness testimony during investigations of suspected electoral wrongdoing.

Aboriginals and students will still be disenfranchised — students, more particularly, if Prime Minister Stephen Harper moves next year’s vote to the spring when they are in transit.

It’s unclear how long these rules would last if Conservatives are defeated at the polls next year.

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair has bluntly said the Conservatives have cheated in every election they have won this century and are trying to pre-cheat next year.

If he were to win under these rules, they will look a lot purer to the NDP.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised to repeal the bill, again, a tall order should he prosper under the system in place.

Tuesday, as the flawed bill was being passed in the House, Elections Canada invited expatriate Canadians to register to vote regardless of how long they have been out of the country, a reaction to an Ontario Superior Court decision earlier this month.

The government had limited the vote to Canadians who had been out of the country for fewer than five years. But in a sign of the continuing acrimony between Elections Canada and the government, the agency did not wait for a potential Conservative appeal of the decision. No one can be surprised, given the flaws and the continuing opposition anger, that Harper’s beloved court could ultimately be involved in adjudicating a Conservative re-election in 2015.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer.

Just Posted

WATCH: Red Deer teacher engages students with “cool” science experiments

On Thursday, he made fire dance to the beat of the music

Bower Place gets okay to redevelop

Red Deer municipal planning commission approves plans

Concerns raised about ice-cream-eating bear at drive-thru in Innisfail

Concerns are being raised about a video of a Kodiak bear from… Continue reading

WATCH: Marijuana in the Workplace information luncheon held in Red Deer

Central Alberta businesses need to prepare for the legalization of marijuana. That… Continue reading

In photos: Get ready for Western Canadian Championships

Haywood NorAm Western Canadian Championships and Peavey Mart Alberta Cup 5/6 start… Continue reading

WATCH: Red Deer city council debates cost-savings versus quality of life

Majority of councillors decide certain services are worth preserving

Got milk? Highway reopened near Millet

A southbound truck hauling milk and cartons collided with a bridge

Stettler’s newest residents overcame fear, bloodshed to come here

Daniel Kwizera, Diane Mukasine and kids now permanent residents

Giddy up: Red Deer to host Canadian Finals Rodeo in 2018

The CFR is expected to bring $20-30 million annually to Red Deer and region

Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to carry flag at Pyeongchang Olympics

Not since Kurt Browning at the 1994 Lillehammer Games has a figure… Continue reading

Beer Canada calls on feds to axe increasing beer tax as consumption trends down

OTTAWA — A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal… Continue reading

Most Read

Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month