Why are Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and a host of other politicians criticizing Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand for not enforcing the new voter identification rules at the polls – when he is in fact upholding those rules?
Evidently Maynard is the only one who has read them.
He said last week and reiterated yesterday before Monday's byelections in Quebec that Muslim women who wear veils or hijabs to the polls could not be barred from voting because the new law does not require visual identification and he can only enforce the law.
The new rules provide three options for voters at the polls and only the first requires photo identification. Under the second option, voters can provide two pieces of identification that must have their name and address. Under the third, a voter with no identification can swear an oath and be vouched for by a registered elector. And as Maynard pointed out, 80,000 people voted by mail in the last election.
He warned a Senate committee in May that the new rules allowed people to vote without uncovering their faces, and repeated that fact to all parties in July. But Parliament did not amend the bill.
The chief electoral officer is quite right to say it is not for him to substitute his will for that of Parliament. Yet Harper insisted from Australia that Mayrand was "subverting the will of Parliament" which passed a bill "requiring the visual identification of voters." Clearly it didn't.
If politicians want to require voters to uncover their face and produce photo ID, then they must change the law. In the meantime, Mayrand's decision to respecfully ask women to remove their veils and if they disagree, to take an oath affirming who they are, is the right one.
Peter Van Loan, the minister responsible for democratic reform said Mayrand's decision "just doesn't make sense ... It's the kind of thing that results in ordinary people just shaking their heads."
We agree. But not at Mayrand, at the politicians they elected.