Who will be affected by the “Fair” Elections Act?
I recently received an email from a constitutent, copied to me and addressed to the Prime Minister. I’ve asked Elaine if she would be comfortable if I shared her letter in its entirety on my blog. I think it is an important story that conveys the value of voting as a means of participating in our democratic system, and highlights some concerns with the “Fair” Elections Act.
Yesterday I visited Rosewood retirement home to tell residents that if they did not have any of the required documents to prove their address, to get a letter from management attesting to their residence before the next federal election. Bill C-23 is expected to pass the Conservative majority parliament and become law this year.
Dear Mr. Harper,
First please let me offer my condolences to you and the Members of the Parliament of Canada on the sudden death of Jim Flaherty. Mr. Flaherty truly represented what public service is about.
I am writing to you, however, about another public servant who also died recently (at the age of 90): my father, John R. McDougall, CD. He was a career military officer, first enlisting at the age of 16 in 1940. He retired with the rank of Lt. Colonel after 30 years of service in the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals and the Royal Canadian Regiment, then went on to spend a further 13 years in the public service in Ottawa (Treasury Board, and Fisheries and Oceans). He was seriously injured during his service in Korea in 1952 (phosphorus burns from a grenade – a “friendly fire” accident) and disabled as a result of those injuries, although he never complained about this incident or resented choosing to serve his country in a difficult and demanding profession.
In fact, it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2010, that he would have said that his life became challenging. My mother had died very suddenly in January, 2010, and my father sustained a very serious fall shortly afterwards that resulted in his hospitalization in the Ottawa Civic. It became apparent that he could no longer walk, or care for himself physically, and so could not return to his retirement residence. He was transferred to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Ottawa in 2010 and was put on a waiting list for a nursing home. In 2013 he was assigned a place at the Garry J. Armstrong home and was moved there.
While at St. Vincent’s, he was proud to be able to vote in the 2011 Federal Election – his hospital bracelet and the hospital’s records were sufficient for him to be eligible, and Elections Canada had created a polling station in the hospital atrium. For a man who had lost so much in the year before (the loss of his wife, his home, his independence), the ability to still cast his vote was an immense source of pride and gave him a sense that he still mattered, that his voice counted, that he was part of the Canadian democratic process. Despite his many physical limitations, he had no diminution of mental capacity and watched the news constantly from his hospital (later nursing home) room, and liked to actively debate world events and Canada’s role in the world. He cherished his ability to vote, and never missed an election.
He died in March of this year from complications related to his Parkinson’s. What a tragedy, and an insult, that if your “Fair Elections Act” legislation is passed, he would have been ineligible to vote in the 2015 Federal Election. Why? Because he voluntarily gave up his Driver’s Licence when he turned 85 because he was concerned that his reaction times were slowing so did not have that piece of identification. Because once he was hospitalized, and living at either St. Vincent’s or The Garry J. Armstrong home, he had all personal mail (including bank statements) forwarded to my brother’s address in Ottawa, because my father did not want important mail getting lost, and he had no secure space in either facility to store important documents. In short – he would have none of the new required identification for him to cast a vote. He would be disenfranchised after 90 years as a citizen and a member of Canadian society; after almost 50 years of public service.
Many Canadian senior citizens will find themselves in the same situation, and it is very disturbing that the Conservative Party of Canada would consider tabling such legislation.