One election down; one to go. It’s the latter that should occupy more of our attention. That’s because municipal elections affect all of us, not just various special interest groups seeking the attention of Parliament.
Yet local elections are usually considered to be the third tier of politics, a kind of teething ground for prospective, more serious offices. That this is, in reality, turned around is bizarre. Whatever you think of any of the federal leaders and their influence on your daily life, all of them are less important than the position of mayor or city councillor.
If anyone thought the federal election was a confusing list of parties and platforms, take a look a Calgary’s upcoming election. The list of mayoral candidates — now 28 — is mind-boggling, including gadflies, no-names and at least one genuine nutcase.
The list of candidates for council is only less confusing because voters only have to concentrate on who’s running in their ward.
Then there’s the completely boneheaded list of referenda. Tied for the head of the list are the two totally pointless ones: equalization and Senate nominees. Both, I need not point out, are the purview of the federal government no matter how much Premier Jason Kenney and his sulky band of United Conservatives may wish otherwise. While those two are a stupid exercise and a waste of paper, they are exceeded in exasperation by a referendum on daylight time and the fluoridation of water. I have no idea to whom the UCP government is pandering, but we have been down this timeworn road many times before, especially with daylight time. (I remember my parents voting for the time change.)
As for the fluoridation referendum, city council arbitrarily removed fluoride from our water without so much as a by your leave to the very citizens who voted in favour of adding a substance that is beneficial to the dental health of all the city’s children. Council did this, I believe, thanks to some trumped-up fear. Take a look at the difference between the caries sustained by Calgary’s children and Edmonton’s (whose water is naturally fluoridated) and the proof is there. But like the whole pandemic exercise, politics trumps science and social media fosters fear and ignorance.
At least for the upcoming municipal election, the voters’ list will not be made available to the candidates. Anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers challenging the rules and targeting health-care workers will not have easy access to anyone’s home address. (How easy would it have been? As easy as ponying up $500 and 100 signatures to run for mayor and $100 and 25 signatures to run for councillor.)
The vitriol and anger bordering on hate; the ignorance and occasional physical confrontations we endured during the federal election should have been a wake-up call for anyone who might be a target of far-right extremists and far-left activists. At least during the municipal campaign, the nut cases won’t be able to target candidates’ homes and families.
But the problem of making campaigning easier for candidates by supplying anyone running for higher office with detailed voters’ lists remains. As we saw during the federal election, the seepage over the border of the American anger has revealed that not all Canadians are as “nice” as our national hubris would have us believe.
As Calgary lawyer Hal Joffe (with whom I served on the board of the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association) said: The easy access to voting lists is “making the candidates’ life easier, rather than the voters.” With the rise of far-right extremism, including neo-Nazis, ask yourself if you want these people to know who and where you are?
We are promised no one can use the information for nefarious purposes or for any non-election purpose. As Elections Canada’s website states: “Elections Canada secures Canadians’ personal information in the National Register of Electors by using firewalls, data encryption and procedural controls.”
Joffe is more skeptical about the extremists. He says: “Do you trust these people to abide by the law?”
We have a brand new government and a couple of years to fix this blatant invasion of privacy. That means all of us need to send a message to Elections Canada to stop making voters’ lists freely available.
Catherine Ford is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.