Once upon a time, I shall begin this column. Because with the Fair Elections Act, currently being sped through the House of Commons as though it were about to turn into a pumpkin, the Conservative government has ceased to tell Canadians legends or folk tales.
Those are yarns generally grounded in the belief that the events at their core are, on some level, true – and what we are being told is a fairy tale. Bill C-23 is the Fairy Tale Elections Act.
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail's easy explanation)
In what now seems like a halcyon past, Canadians were once warned that we are at war with "child pornographers." The government used the legitimate threat that child pornographers pose as justification for the provisions contained in its now-shelved Bill C-30 – the "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act." It was a tarted-up version of the unpopular bill once called the "Lawful Access Act" that, among other things, expanded the Internet-surveillance capabilities of the authorities.
Many Canadians mocked Bill C-30's child-pornographer branding, but child pornographers are a group whose existence is, sadly, undeniable – even if Bill C-30 never mentioned them, outside its lurid title. With that bill, we were told: "Either stand with us or with the child pornographers."
With Bill C-23, we're essentially being told: "You either stand with us or you stand with the milk-souring goblins."
The justification for the drastic changes to our electoral system contained in the bill are legions of fraudulent voters whom no one has ever seen. Certainly no one at Elections Canada. They are a phantasmal yet politically engaged army who work their dark magic with No. 2 pencils.
The Fair Elections Act will weaken the powers of non-partisan Elections Canada, which, among other things, will no longer be allowed to encourage citizens to vote. As well, the act will potentially politicize the voting process by allowing the party that scored the most votes in the last election to recommend people it would prefer to act as central poll supervisors. It will forbid the practice of vouching – potentially disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Canadians, particularly First Nations people, students, the elderly in nursing homes and those who have recently moved and don't have a hydro bill handy.
Under Bill C-23, any calls documented as made with the intent of fundraising (I imagine one's party's good deeds and any upcoming elections could plausibly be mentioned in such calls) made to people who have donated more than $20 in the past five years will not counted against campaign spending limits.
It's hard to see how the rich party (isn't that the Conservatives?) will not get richer under this plan and, as the onus on getting out the vote (a costly endeavour) will be shifted entirely to individual parties, any lead a party has probably will grow like a magic beanstalk.
Various Conservative members of Parliament have now spun tales of this invisible-to-electoral-officials-threat – tales as spooky as anecdotes about strangers rooting about in dumpsters behind rental units for voter-information cards can be.
Brad Butt (Mississauga-Streetsville) has already "published" two versions of his tale, the first as memoir, the second as hearsay.
First, he said he had "actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID."
In this account, Mr. Butt seems to have been driven to tail these miscreants all day (I like to imagine this was done in multiple disguises, once as a large owl), and yet Mississauga's Miss Marple was, apparently, not motivated to report these dastardly deeds at the time.
In the later version of the tale – Mr. Butt says he "misspoke" his earlier account – our narratively gifted MP had merely heard this fantastical voter-card story and recounted it for our amusement.
Mr. Butt may be the Hans Christian Andersen of electoral-fraud fiction, or Mississauga, the oddest of magic kingdoms. Stephen Harper has thanked him for coming forward with his story – sometimes our Prime Minister is just like the little boy in The Princess Bride.
When Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, introduced C-23, he said his aim was to give the commissioner for Canada Elections "sharper teeth, longer reach and a freer hand."
Who didn't think of the bill as a wolf wearing grandma's bonnet? I hope (we are a nation of fine woodsmen) that we'll hack it to pieces and live – democratically – ever after.