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Federal Politics

Let Me Be Clear: Fact Checking Leaders on Democracy

We took a slice of last night's debate and asked who was telling the truth.

Katie Hyslop 7 Aug

Katie Hyslop reports on the 2015 federal election for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter @kehyslop.

Last night's federal election debate was so chock-a-block with quotable quotes, promises and "facts," it would take an 11-week campaign to verify them all.

Especially since it was hard to hear everything when leaders talked over each other (looking at you, Justin Trudeau), or to stay focused when they took too long to reach the point (*ahem*, super-enunciator Thomas Mulcair).

Instead, I've narrowed down a few choice statements leaders made about the whole concept behind election season: democracy. In this little section, I found some leaders were guilty of stretching the truth when vying for your votes, while others were spot on. You can decide whether their sins were big enough to cause you to cast your vote for someone else.

And if you want your own chance to yell "Nobody believes you!" during the debate, you can watch it here.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau: "[Prime Minister Stephen Harper] simply refused to sit down and talk with the premiers over the past 10 years."

Not true. Although the pressure to meet with Canada's premiers has been high as of late, coming not only from Trudeau but some of the premiers themselves, Harper did convene a meeting with them in early 2009 to discuss the economy.

A spokesperson for Harper told the National Post that the prime minister has had more than 300 meetings with Canadian premiers since taking office in 2006, but the Post noted he prefers meetings to be one-on-one.

Stephen Harper on the Fair Elections Act: "Ninety per cent of Canadians believe you should be able to show identification and who you are before you vote."

Not true. Even if we assume the awkward sentence construction was a mistake and Harper meant to say "90 per cent of Canadians believe you should show ID before you vote," it's still not true.

The Fair Elections Act, which became law in June 2014, changed voting regulations by requiring voters to present two kinds of identification. Harper may be referencing an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for CTV News that found 23 per cent of those polled were aware of the Fair Elections Act and of them 87 per cent said they believed voters should present ID before being allowed to vote.

Except, as Green Party leader Elizabeth May pointed out, the requirement that voters show ID to prove their identity and address was introduced by another elections reform act passed seven years earlier in 2007.

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair on the Fair Elections Act: "[Harper has] actually made it harder for whole classes of Canadians to vote."

We won't know this for sure until after the Oct. 19 election, because there hasn't been a federal vote since the Fair Elections Act passed last year.

Feedback provided to Elections Canada after the first federal election since the 2007 electoral reforms, however, found that students, indigenous people, people who lived in rural areas and seniors in nursing homes "experienced greater difficulties in meeting the identification requirements, specifically proof of address," than the rest of the electorate.

The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students attempted to get an injunction against a section of the Fair Elections Act banning the use of voter notification cards as ID. The group said the prohibition would make it harder for the aforementioned groups, as well as homeless people, to vote. But the Ontario Superior Court of Justice denied the injunction last month. The two groups are planning to appeal.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: "All [elected Green Party politicians] got elected by driving up voter turnout."

Possibly true. I don't have the resources to contact everyone who didn't show up to vote in previous elections to ask them why they voted during successful Green elections. But every provincial and federal seat the Green party won did coincide with a higher than previous voter turnout in their riding.

May's 2011 election in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding brought out 4.8 per cent more eligible voters than in 2008, and B.C. MLA Andrew Weaver's Oak Bay-Gordon Head 2013 victory saw 2.76 per cent more voters cast ballots than in 2009.

David Coon, who won the newly created Fredericton South riding in 2014, might have benefitted from the amalgamation of two other ridings with strong 2010 election turnouts. Nevertheless, his riding's turnout was 3.81 per cent and 6.3 per cent higher than those old ridings could rustle up in New Brunswick's 2010 provincial election.

Elections PEI doesn't disclose voter turnout by ridings. But when Peter Bevan-Baker won the first Green seat in 2015, 522 more people cast their ballots than did in 2011.

Stephen Harper on electoral reform: "I have not found Canadians who want to make this fundamental change."

Not true. Considering Harper's view of "Canadians" can be limited to 23 per cent of people responding to a poll [see the Fair Elections Act supporters quote above], perhaps he could be forgiven for seeing the failure of electoral reform to pass in four provincial referendums as reflective of the will of all Canadians to keep the current first-past-the-post electoral system.

British Columbia's first referendum on replacing first-past-the-post with the single transferable vote system in 2005 was just 2.3 per cent of the vote shy of passing. In total, close to a million British Columbians voted in favour of changing the provincial electoral system.

By the second referendum in 2009, support for the single transferable vote system dropped to 39.09 per cent, or nearly 650,000 people.

Prince Edward Island had its own referendum on the mixed member proportional voting system in 2005. But it lost with 36.42 per cent of the vote, almost 12,000 voters, in favour.

Ontario's referendum on the mixed member proportional system had similar results, with 36.9 per cent of voters -- about 1.5 million people -- in favour.

Sure, even in a country as small as Canada it isn't possible for the head of government to meet everybody. But Harper should at least know that just because you win an election doesn't mean every Canadian is in your corner.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Federal Politics

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