A Free and Fair Election


Writing a Letter

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by Jim Sinclair

I don’t write to the Conservative Member of Parliament for our riding often. But with the government’s unseemly rush to push the Fair Elections Act through Parliament I felt compelled to lay out these facts for him.

 

Jay Aspin, MP
Nipissing-Temiskaming

Dear Jay:

As Parliament resumes today, I wanted to offer you, as my MP, some local feedback to inform your participation in the House of Commons. I hope it will be helpful to you. It concerns the proposed new elections act.

In the spring of 1994, in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, in the town of Ixopo, my team of international peace monitors found ourselves with a delicate assignment. The five of us, two women and three men – the Police Commissioner of Northern Norway, a Kenyan aid worker, a Belgian church leader, and a Black South African teacher as well as myself – were to accompany into court five men accused a few days earlier of killing 14 young workers of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

That Commission was established by Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk – electoral opponents working together – to teach a population that historically had little idea of the electoral process what was involved when a nation held a vote. The IEC explained to them how important their participation in their country’s first election was, for the sake of their personal future and for the health and well-being of the nation. It outlined for citizens who had never voted before how they could register to vote, and then explained how actually to go about doing so at the polling stations on the appointed day.

The goal of the IEC was to make the vote as accessible as possible, both in the more remote areas of South Africa with their indigenous populations, and in areas of major cities where some of the poorest people lived. Wisely, as it turned out, the first day of the election was restricted to those who were handicapped in some way, the elderly and frail, and women who were pregnant.

All these measures were threatening to various vested interests of the day. Hence the constant danger to IEC workers, like those hacked to death in the tragedy I have mentioned above. In the end, however, what many feared would be a bloodbath on election day turned into an iconic moment of good will and joy and pride in a fair election. Good will because it took the efforts of the whole country – no matter the differences in political views – on that first day (family, friends, police, community agencies, churches) to assist society’s most vulnerable to the polls. Pride because in the following days – in spite of political differences – a major re-building of civility and community took root. Joy because each person of voting age experienced not only the right to vote, but the active encouragement that they could make a difference.

What a contrast to the spirit of your party’s so-called Fair Elections Act. Though Mr. Poilievre espouses what he thinks are certain reforms, and assures the country that nothing nefarious is included, the latter is not true.

I join with others in rejecting C-23 in its present form. I agree with so many who feel this bill is abusive, and ill-advised; people like Canadian academics (including over 150 professors at Canadian universities who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy), citizen organizations, international experts on governance (18 academics from around the world last week), all the major national newspapers or the recent Neufeld Report. That is the report which – to the chagrin of its author – the Minister cites as an authority when it suits him. He then condemns its assessments of the Bill when it does not serve his (Poilievre’s) purposes.

With its disenfranchising of at least 100,000 Canadians, its weakening of the powers of Elections Canada, and its welcoming of more private money into elections, Bill C-23 is a terrible mark on Canada, at home and abroad. It contradicts the brave work done elsewhere by people in many countries, like those South African IEC workers who lost their lives in 1994, attempting to bring about a free and fair election.

Bill C-23 is offensive to me personally and to the thousands of Canadians who have worked abroad on behalf of Canada or other organizations to ensure fair electoral practices. As a nation, we’ve previously been honoured for such work over and over. For all these reasons, Bill C-23 should equally be an embarrassment to you as an elected federal official.

Sincerely,
Jim Sinclair

Jim Sinclair is a retired minister and a former General Secretary of The United Church of Canada who seeks to be a defender of our democracy and our environment. Perhaps most important he is little Eli’s Baba.

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Categories: Daily Life, Ethics, Featured, Leadership, Peace, Justice, and Equality, People, World

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