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May 12, 2014

The federal Conservative government has made some headway in improving the so-called Fair Elections Act with its recent spate of amendments. However, it still has a long road to travel before it arrives at its intended destination of providing the basis for fair elections in Canada.

In carrying out investigations of election fraud, the chief electoral officer still lacks the power to compel witness testimony. Without that power, the electoral officer may frequently have his or her hands tied in fully investigating matters that come forward.

There continues to be a ban on the electoral officer carrying out advertising campaigns that encourage people to vote. Any government with an interest in promoting democratic participation would see the power to take reasonable measures to encourage voting as an essential part of the electoral officer's job.

Barriers that prevent people from voting are still too high. The Elections Canada voter registration card, accompanied by proper ID, should be sufficient evidence that voters live where they say they do. While there will always be concerns about voter fraud, there is currently a much greater concern with legitimate voters being turned away at the polling place.

Finally, the proposal to increase the financial limit on campaign donations, especially those by the candidates themselves, threatens to make political candidacy increasingly inaccessible to people of modest means. If anything, the federal government should follow Quebec's lead and set the donation limit at $100.

In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, St. John Paul wrote, "The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility of both electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate."

The government's Fair Elections Act still has a mile to go before it lives up to those basic standards.