Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than the right to vote. It is cherished in democracies and envied in dictatorships. Today’s newspapers are filled with stories about pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, Egypt, Venezuela and Afghanistan. Similarly, the history books are brimming with stories of disenfranchised people being imprisoned, persecuted, and killed because of their desire to cast a ballot.
Throughout history, dictators feared nothing more than the right to vote. It was for this reason, Abraham Lincoln famously remarked, “the ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
Internationally, Canada has been a tireless champion of the right to vote. Thousands of Canadians died on the cliffs of Dieppe; in the deserts of Kandahar; on the beaches of Normandy; and in the valleys of Kapyong in defence of it. They died so millions could vote and be freed from fascism, communism and totalitarianism.
Domestically, the right to vote expanded throughout the 20th century. Suffrage was extended to women in 1921; to Asian Canadians in 1947 and 1948; to First Nations/aboriginal Canadians in 1960; to the mentally ill in 1988; and to the incarcerated in 2002. The right to vote is so fundamental that governments of all political have sought to insulate it from political interference. Prime Minister Mackenzie introduced the secret ballot in 1874. Prime Minister Borden created Elections Canada in 1920. Prime Minister Trudeau enshrined the right to vote in the Charter (1982). Prime Minister Chretien passed campaign finance reform in 2000.
Stephen Harper’s contribution to history?
Unlike his predecessors, Prime Minister Harper is trying to turn the clocks back. His government is trying to pass legislation (Bill C-23) that could prevent 520,000 Canadians from voting in the next election. First Nations/aboriginal Canadians, university students, senior citizens and low-income individuals will all be affected.
Bill C-23 will eliminate the process of “vouching,” eliminate voter identification cards, and eliminate the Chief Electoral Officer’s ability to promote voting. The government is trying to rush this anti-democratic bill through Parliament as fast as possible. They have ignored petitions, refused to consult voters, rejected expert testimony, and limited debate.
Harper will go down in the history books as the prime minister who tried to roll back the right to vote. I hope our generation (like Nellie McClung, Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela) will go down as the generation that stopped him.
Harper: keep your hands off my right to vote.