Rallies held to decry new federal election rules

The Conservatives’ Fair Elections Act had a rough ride across the country Tuesday with more than 30 demonstrations opposing it, including one at the Fort Street office of Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin.

Rankin’s office was chosen because he is one of many members of Parliament who disagree with the government’s proposed changes to the country’s elections law.

The proposed legislation includes measures aimed at preventing repetition of the so-called “robocalls” scandal, in which automated calls sent some voters in the 2011 federal election to the wrong polling station.

About 50 people, some with tape covering their mouths, stood outside Rankin’s office on Fort Street to send the message that the proposed act would prevent many Canadians from having their voices heard at election time. Tom Hackney of LeadNow.ca — the group behind the day’s demonstrations — presented a Rankin staff member with a copy of a national petition with close to 83,000 signatures, including more than 20,000 from B.C. residents. Rankin was in Ottawa. LeadNow.ca’s Cameron Gray said the events were part of Let People Vote! day.

Campbell River, Courtenay and Nanaimo also hosted demonstrations. “This is showing that thousands of people across Canada oppose the so-called Fair Elections Act, showing that this bill is not only unfair but is simply undemocratic,” Gray said.

Contacted in Ottawa, Rankin said Tuesday’s events followed a town hall meeting in Victoria earlier this month, organized by him and fellow NDP MP Randall Garrison, who represents the Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca riding. He said it attracted more than 200 people opposed to the Fair Elections Act.

“I just think it’s appalling,” Rankin said of the act. “It’s nothing but voter suppression.”

Rankin said that under the proposed legislation, people would no longer be able to vouch or attest for other voters, such as husbands for wives. Such a step would also make it harder for homeless people to vote, Rankin said.

Another outcome would be to make voter-information cards less useful, he said, so that people couldn’t use those cards as proof of ID at the polls.

The government maintains that vouching and use of voter-ID cards has led to voter fraud, and that 39 viable alternatives for ID can still be used.

The act will improve the voting system by creating an independent election commissioner with the ability to keep problems like robocalls from coming up, the government said.

That step would put enforcement power in the new commissioner’s hands, rather than with Elections Canada. jwbell@timescolonist.com

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