Christina Commisso, CTVNews.ca
The federal government's proposed Elections Act overhaul has proven to be a lightning rod for criticism. While the minister responsible for the bill, Pierre Poilievre staunchly defends the changes he says are largely aimed at eliminating voter fraud, members of the groups that could be most affected if the legislation passes -- students, seniors and First Nations peoples – argue it's actually a more fundamental swipe at Canada's democratic system.
Spokespersons from groups representing each of those demographics joined CTV's Question Period Sunday, to air their criticisms of the contentious act also known as Bill C-23.
Eliminating vouching would prevent many students, First Nations peoples, from voting
Under the current rules, "vouching" allows individuals without the proper ID to have someone vouch for them so them so they can still vote.
The Chief Electoral Officer says it's often a case of someone who can prove their identity, but not their current address. The bill also eliminates using a voter information card as a way to corroborate where you live.
Peter Dinsdale of the Assembly of First Nations says, while Indian status cards count as one piece of identification, it doesn't include an address.
"Far too many people live in overcrowded housing situations, many have just moved, or don't have any other form of ID, so removing that provision of the Act would disallow a lot of First Nations people from voting," Dinsdale told Question Period.
Proving one's address is also difficult for many students, says Jessica McCormick of the Canadian Federation of Students.
"Youth, and students particularly, move very frequently so it's very difficult to find that piece of ID that includes the address of the riding you want to vote in," she said.
Outreach and education restrictions placed on Elections Canada could dissuade voting
The Act would prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from engaging in public education or democratic outreach to groups that are less likely to vote.
At a time when voter turnout is at a record-low, this aspect of the proposed legislation has many people scratching their heads.
Dinsdale says voting is a "touchy subject" on many reserves, as some First Nations peoples feel they shouldn't vote in federal elections. He said the Assembly of First Nations has been working with Elections Canada on education and outreach in some communities, which would be banned under the new act.
McCormick says the same is true on university and college campuses.
"Our organization has been working with Elections Canada for the last year to develop strategies to encourage youth to vote in the next election, to set up more polling stations on campuses and more robust education and outreach campaigns," she said. "With the introduction of Bill C-23 it's unclear if any of that will happen."
Voter fraud isn't top-of-mind for seniors, but they are worried about democracy
Ottawa has said the Fair Elections Act will effectively reduce voter fraud.
But Susan Eng of CARP (Canadian Association of Retired Persons) said a recent survey of 3,700 of its members showed seniors are more concerned about "candidate fraud" than voter fraud.
"Our members don't think there's voter fraud," she said. "The issue of robocalls was a big one for them."
Eng said seniors surveyed about Bill C-23 are not concerned about being unable to vote themselves, "but they worry about others (not being able to vote) and other aspects of the bill that basically erode democracy in their opinion."
Polling showed 80 per cent of CARP's members believe certain provisions in the bill are wrong.
"They saw it as actually making the electoral process seem more biases and supressing voter participation," Eng said.
CARP, the Canadian Federation of Students or the Assembly of First Nations say they were not consulted ahead of the bill's release.
"I do recall the minister saying he had spoken to 'people'," Eng said. "I'm not sure who those people are, but I hope they included some of our 300,000 members across the country."