In the name of democracy Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre wants to put the “rule breakers out of business”. In particular, he wants to stop the scourge of voter fraud. Sounds like a good idea, right? But perhaps it is the Minister who is flouting norms of democracy.
Legitimate democratic processes involve more than fair electoral and parliamentary voting processes. They have a deliberative component. Legitimate legislation is not merely legislation that secures the support of majority of elected representatives in some procedurally fair process of vote counting. Rather democratic legitimacy depends on good faith efforts by political actors to provide credible justifications for the laws and policies they wish to see adopted.
Of course, there are often heated disagreements as to what counts as good political justification. In democracies there is wide latitude in political debate and discourse about the features of sound political justification. But not everything is up for grabs. Politicians should not, for instance, deliberately distort facts or the historical record in order to win support for policies they favour. Really that’s so obvious it should not need articulation.
Against this elementary observation it is distressing and darkly ironic that the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) evidently believes it is acceptable to conjure images of widespread voter fraud in order to sell the inaptly named Fair Elections Act to the public. In providing a putative rationale for ending the use of vouching the government’s Democratic Reform website trumpets that is “cracking down on voter fraud”. It falsely insinuates that evidence of voter fraud was uncovered in the Neufeld Report commissioned by Elections Canada.
Of course, the government cannot cite any actual evidence of voter fraud from the report because Neufeld did not cite any. The most likely explanation for this is that there is in fact no crisis of voter fraud involving vouching in the first place. Neufeld noted “irregularities” involving vouching but deliberately (and appropriately) resisted the conclusion that “irregularities” constituted fraud. So what evidence of the crisis of voter fraud does the government present? Here’s what the webpage says: “However, media reports since 2011 have shown that the use of voter information cards as ID presents proven risks of voter fraud.” I see that major democratic reform is predicated on unspecified media reports of “proven risks of voter fraud”. If the proof is really there and the risk is really great why does the government take refuge in what amounts to hearsay?
The cynicism behind the strategy for promoting the Fair Elections Act is palpable. But it’s important to note that the strategy is not merely an illustration of political rhetoric put towards partisan aims, rather the strategy involves a betrayal of the ideal of honest and respectful democratic discourse. It’s possible to debate the merits of vouching and voter identification cards. But real democratic debate should be grounded in facts not in fantasies about voter fraud invoked for political convenience. It’s shameful that the minster responsible for democratic reform does not grasp this. Minister, heal thyself!