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Fair Elections Act could erode some voters' rights

Will I be able to vote in the next election?" That is a question more and more Canadians will be asking as the implications of C-23, the socalled Fair Elections Act, become clearer. Political commentators across Canada have wondered what this legislation is designed to fix - certainly not the issues Elections Canada would like clarified, including being able to compel witnesses to testify about election fraud.

Instead, the legislation curbs the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and limits the ability of Elections Canada, the nonpartisan, arms-length body that runs federal elections, to speak publicly about democracy, the importance of voting or to work with other Canadians who want to promote voter turnout.

For years now, our neighbours to the south in the United States have seen their ability to vote slowly eroded by voter suppression laws that disenfranchise the young, the poor, people of colour and the elderly.

The Fair Elections Act introduces similar strategies to make it more difficult for youth, seniors, First Nations and poor people to vote.

The new legislation will outlaw vouching for someone at the poll, a way to ensure a neighbour or a resident in a care home could still vote even if they didn't have government-issued identification.

Nearly 100,000 Canadians used vouching in 2011. By removing that option, the Conservatives are preventing those people from voting in the next election.

The Supreme Court of Canada previously ruled on whether or not the electoral system should take precedence over Canadians'

right to vote and it ruled that the ability to cast a vote takes priority over any electoral system introduced.

Which means this legislation violates one of the fundamental rights outlined in our Constitution. But the Conservatives went ahead and introduced it anyway and dared to call it "fair"? New Democrats tried to get all Members

of Parliament to agree that the bill should go immediately to committee before second reading in the House. That is the only way a bill can have substantive changes - once second reading happens, the scope of the bill cannot be changed through amendment.

But we could not get agreement that such a fundamental change to how people vote should be carefully considered and Canadians should have an

opportunity to provide comment before moving forward with the legislation.

Instead, after only two hours of debate, the Conservatives moved time allocation on the bill, giving MPs only three days to debate its merits and faults before it was sent to committee for study.

In the past week, my office has received numerous phone calls and emails from residents of Cowichan who disagree with the content of the bill and the undemocratic way it is being pushed through Parliament.

If you would like to add your voice against this undemocratic legislation, please go to my website, and follow the links to our petition against Bill C-23.

Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan. She can be reached at 250-746-4896.