Commentary

Fair Elections Act Disenfranchises Vulnerable Voters

Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, changes many rules around voting to make it much more difficult for potential voters to cast ballots.

By Laura Cattari
Published April 22, 2014

The experience of falling into poverty often results in lost opportunities, but if new government proposals on the way Canadians vote come into effect, individuals living in poverty and other groups in society may soon lose key fundamental rights.

Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, changes many rules around voting. In short, it makes it much more difficult for potential voters to cast ballots.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to vote to every citizen in Canada who is 18 years and older. Yet changes in bill C-23 may disenfranchise thousands of voters in Hamilton and tens of thousands of other Canadians who are precariously housed or homeless.

Other groups in society are affected as well - including seniors, students, persons with disabilities, recent citizens and aboriginals.

Removal of Vouch Voting

Vouch voting is not solely about proving identity but also proving where a voter lives. The removal of vouch voting in C-23 will affect the approximately 4000 individual men and women who use in an emergency shelters in Hamilton each year as well as the estimated 3000 to 6500 women alone who live in hidden homelessness.

In January, 2014 there were 5,503 Hamilton households with an active application for the affordable housing waitlist and 46% of low-income renters were considered at risk of homelessness because they are currently paying more than 50% of their incomes on housing.

Studies have found that low-income families move much more frequently than the general population. The reasons for moving vary when unplanned or involuntary circumstances occur, such as economic eviction, foreclosure, illness and/or job loss.

If these events occur four to six weeks before an election, citizens may lose their ability to provide proof of residence. For people who are homeless, absolute or hidden, it is often impossible to provide proof of residence at all.

On top of these challenges, individuals experiencing poverty can and do experience more theft on average: resulting in stolen identification.

Low Income, Low Voting Participation

The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction has always acknowledged the link between poverty and social inclusion. Low income voters already have a much lower rate of voter participation than the general population.

If the changes described in Bill C-23 come into effect the effect, the results may be a deeper suppression of voters who experience extreme poverty. The impact on public policy choices will follow.

The Fair Elections Act also proposes the removal of Elections Canada's ability to provide non-partisan materials to teachers and community organizations about the democratic system and the importance of voting. If this happens, voter turnout will further erode. An Elections Canada evaluation of its student vote program showed that it had increased students' knowledge of politics and the electoral progress. Bill C-23 could also affect access to information about our political process for new Canadians.

Heart of Democracy

The right to vote is at the very heart of democracy. The disenfranchisement of any Canadian in this process is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Any allowed erosion of that Charter challenges the freedoms of us all. For this reason, the changes proposed Fair Elections Act should be important to all Hamiltonians.

The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and community partners are holding an information session on the Fair Elections Act on Friday, April 25 in Council Chambers of City Hall.

Starting at 9:30 AM, community groups and members of the public will have the opportunity to share their concerns about the 'Fair Elections Act'. Several local Members of Parliament will be attendance and have committed to bring what they hear back to Ottawa as part of the debate on Bill C-23.

You are encouraged to attend and make your voice heard!

Laura Cattari is a Hamiltonian by choice for 24 years, and an advocate specializing in social policy, human rights and poverty. These are her personal thoughts which she is certain will anger everyone, please no one, which suits her just fine.

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By Noper (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 17:40:54

Those living in poverty have more to worry about than voting in a system where it does not even matter anyway. You assume that decision making in this province/country is actually a reflection of the majority's will. It is not. Countless examples prove this.

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By What he said (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 17:42:58 in reply to Comment 100561

I agree. We don't live in a true liberal democracy. You need an educated citizenry for that and most people are pretty stupid, frankly. We need to wake up.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 16:25:18 in reply to Comment 100562

I do not think people are stupid. I have seen fear in people's faces if you try to engage people into discussions.
People are trying to hang on to what they have, their beliefs and values, it is difficult to fathom for individuals that all they know could be part of the problem.

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By Maroon (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 20:37:01 in reply to Comment 100562

Speak for yourself. Goofball.

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By Argh (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 22:24:51 in reply to Comment 100566

That's ignorant.

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By ignorant?? (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 14:26:00 in reply to Comment 100568

I think you mean "rude" rather than this fuzzy "ignorant".

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 17:49:36

What is missing from this article is why people do not vote?
The writer gives no insight into the fact that both the liberals and conservatives have been party to all the austerity cuts and other instruments such as NAFTA.
Do we really live in a democracy?
Or is democracy only for the few, who have many servants?

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By AP (registered) | Posted April 22, 2014 at 21:47:44

Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I shared below in a comment on an article in The Spec and thought I would share same here in case people are interested: (1) There's a public meeting on the Act this Friday at City Hall (http://hamiltonpoverty.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Fair-Elections-Act-flyer-April-2014.pdf) and (2) some great and illuminating commentary on our electoral system (http://denisfalvey.com/essays/false-majorities/) and (3) an idea truly aimed at creating fair and representative elections (www.fairvote.ca).

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 00:41:10

The writer says she specializes in social policy, I ask whose policy?
There are always bigger questions to ask.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 22:10:26

I have talked with Laura and she does have her issues with ODSP , not knowing her disabiltiy, as that is not my business.

The challenge that comes forward, does Ms Cattari represent all those on ODSP? It is dangerous in a sense to allow one voice, that does not represent the total. What gives her the right to speak for the many? How do we know given an audit of things, that things are up and up???

I am always suspect of those who are deemed as the YWCA women of honor. Yes I know what that means, bullying is the forefront, so why should we even listen or even support an organization that is the not what it seems.

Of course, the YWCA relies on federal funding to exist, so of course they would deem those at a grassroots level the enemy.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 23:11:51

Of course the powers to be support thw YWCA. As a societiy, I ask why should we? I knowf full well what it all means.

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted April 30, 2014 at 22:50:53

With the recent repeal of the more difficult clauses of C-23, is the legislation more palatable to the voting public? Part of the problem is that we deal in such large, abstracted terms, such as the voting public, that we cannot consider what these terms do to political discourse. We can see the effects of such legislation on the ground, or envision what those effects could be, at the very least, but the movement of parliamentary democracy is, of necessity, very slow: discussion, deliberation, debate all take time and a rushed annual general meeting leaves some scratching their heads and others frustrated.

As scrap's comments indicate, it is an echo of Christopher Lasch's work and idea that neither the language of left, right, nor centre politics matter anymore; all are pushing some measure of capitalist acquiescence, some amelioration of the waged economy. None is pushing on the ideas that more vehicles on the road increase pedestrian deaths (at least the Liberal Party of Canada is addressing public transit issues in a meaningful fashion, as their purported budget indicates); none is pushing on the ideas that more vehicles add pollution of all kinds, whether aural, visual, or of the commons (be it air, earth, or water), to our city and its least. No one political party is envisioning a different path; for example, a settlement of treaty rights and land claims, some clear movement toward the restoration of the Haldimand Tract of six miles on either side of the Grand River from mouth to end, swallowing Kitchener and Cambridge whole. What I see in the mornings is hundreds of lone-driver vehicles along Fennell Avenue East at Warren and Hoover Avenues and empty buses. I climb on the 'bus.

Comment edited by Joshua on 2014-04-30 22:51:43

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