HOUSE OF COMMONS STANDING COMMITTEE ON PROCEDURE AND HOUSE AFFAIRS
Monday 31 March 2014 7-8pm Ottowa
OPENING STATEMENT BY PIPPA NORRIS
I am honored to contribute towards the deliberations of the Canadian Parliament and I thank the committee for the invitation.
In particular, I direct the electoral integrity project based at Harvard University and the University of Sydney. We monitor the causes and consequences of flawed and failed elections in all countries around the world.
We study major problems, such as flaws in voter registration and election management in mature democracies such as the United States, Britain and Canada as well as major problems of electoral violence, bloodshed, and instability in fragile states such as Afghanistan, Thailand and Kenya.
STANDARDS OF ELECTORAL INTEGRITY endorsed by the international community suggest that contests should meet certain agreed principles, in particular that:
· Electoral management bodies should be independent and impartial, with the capacity to manage contests fairly, transparently, and effectively.
· Voting processes should be secure, honest, fair, and inclusive of all eligible electors.
· The role of money in politics should provide a reasonably level playing field which is equitable for all parties. And,
· Electoral laws and regulations should be subject to public consultation and careful parliamentary deliberation to foster a broad consensus among all political parties.
I think that we can all agree on these broad standards. The Fair Elections Act proposes a set of wide-ranging changes. Unfortunately, the current draft of the proposed legislation would fail to meet these international standards in four ways. In particular, it would:
1. Diminish the effectiveness, impartiality, and independence of electoral administration;
2. Restrict voting rights and thereby reduce electoral turnout;
3. Expand the role of money in politics; and
4. Produce polarization rather than a broad consensus among all political parties.
As a result, the legislation damage Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of human rights and provide a poor example for countries elsewhere in the world. Let me explain these concerns.
The bill seeks to rewrite many major laws and regulations governing elections in Canada. These major changes would reduce electoral integrity in four ways, as follows:
1. DIMINISH THE EFFECTIVENESS, IMPARTIALITY AND INDEPENDENCE OF ELECTORAL ADMINISTRATION
The proposed Act significantly diminishes the effectiveness of Elections Canada, a non-partisan agency, in the fair administration of elections and the independent investigation of electoral infractions by:
· Severely limiting the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to communicate with the public, thereby preventing the CEO from encouraging voting and civic participation, and publishing research reports
· Removing the enforcement arm of the agency, the Commissioner of Elections, from Elections Canada, and placing it in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a government department. This weakens the Commissioner’s accountability to report to all political parties in parliament and to the general public.
· Enabling the winning political party to recommend names for poll supervisors, thereby politicizing the electoral process and introducing the possibility or perception of partisan bias. The risk is that politicization will reduce public trust in the electoral process and confidence in elected officials
· Failing to provide the Commissioner with the power to compel witness testimony (a significant obstacle in a recent investigation of electoral fraud)
Any electoral management body needs to be seen to be independent of the party in government, impartial towards all political parties, and effective in connecting with the public, including mobilizing turnout. The Act would weaken Elections Canada in all these regards, violating international norms.
2. RESTRICT VOTING RIGHTS AND TURNOUT: The proposed Act diminishes the ability of citizens to vote in elections by:
· Prohibiting the use of vouching to establish a citizen’s eligibility to vote
· Prohibiting the use of Voter Information Cards to establish a citizen’s identity or residency
The prohibition against vouching is ostensibly to reduce voter fraud yet there is no evidence, as affirmed by the Neufeld Report on Compliance Review, that vouching results in voter fraud. These changes to the voter eligibility rules will disproportionately impact seniors, the younger population and students, the economically disadvantaged, and First Nations citizens, leading to an estimated disenfranchisement of over 120,000 citizens.
There are more appropriate and effective ways which many countries use to prevent voter impersonation, including the provision of no cost official photo voter identification cards by the EMB, the use of provisional ballots (put into a special provisional ballot box to double check against registration records after close of polling), and stricter punishments for any transgressions, such as higher fines or imprisonment.
3. EXPAND THE ROLE OF MONEY IN POLITICS: The proposed Act does this by:
· Exempting “fundraising expenses” from the spending limits for political parties, thereby creating a potential loophole and weakening enforcement
· Failing to require political parties to provide supporting documentation for their expenses, even though the parties are reimbursed over $30 million after every election
· Increasing the caps on individual donations from $1200 to $1500 per calendar year
· Increasing the caps on candidates’ contributions to their own campaigns from $1200 to $5000 per election for candidates and $25,000 per election for leadership contestants
The danger is thereby increasing the influence of personal wealth in elections. Campaigns cost money. Alternative strategies include raising public subsidies and direct services available for all registered candidates and parties on an equitable and fair basis.
4. FAIL TO ACHIEVE A BROAD BIPARTISAN CONSENSUS
The substance of the Fair Elections Act raises significant concerns with respect to the future of electoral integrity in Canada. The process by which the proposed Act is being rushed into law in Parliament has also sparked considerable concern. The governing political party has used its majority power to enact the bill as soon as possible. By contrast, the conventional approach to reforming the electoral apparatus in many democracies has always involved widespread consultation with electoral authorities, the opposition parties and the citizens, as well as with the international community.
Electoral rules and procedures which are seen as partisan or serving the interests of any one party are likely to reduce public trust in the electoral process AND confidence in members of parliament, as well as being vulnerable to amendment following a change of the parties in government.
IN CONCLUSION, the proposed legislation should be revised so that contests in Canada continue to meet the highest international standards of electoral integrity. I share the concerns expressed in writing by many distinguished national and international experts that the proposed Fair Elections Act threatens to:
· undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process,
· damage Canada’s international reputation as one of the world’s guardians of human rights, and
· provide an example which would also undermine prospects for democracy to flourish in the rest of the world.
Director, the Electoral Integrity Project
Professor of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney
McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University
2 April 2014