Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Now this might be something worth going to an election for

The Globe has a stellar editorial today on Harper's proposed veil legislation. And it got me to thinking. If Stephen Harper insists on enacting this vile piece of legislation, the act requiring Muslim women to show their faces when voting, the opposition should consider its defeat. This seems to be exactly the kind of issue the Liberals should fight for, standing up against the singling out of a cultural community like this as an excuse to pander to the awful prejudices on display primarily in Quebec recently.

This is an issue which goes to the heart of defining what kind of nation we want to be. Are we a nation which will continue to support our tradition of a strong multicultural society that tolerates difference and values it? Or will we draw lines and point at others and say, you there, you show your face to prove who you are because you look different from the rest of us. You deserve to be singled out, even though you have not posed any problems to the voting process at all, ever. You just make us - some of us - uncomfortable. That's a dangerous road to be heading down. And I for one, don't want to go. I think the appeal to unity, dignity, tolerance, respect for difference and fundamental fairness will resonate.

Now whether this will end up being THE defining issue of a campaign, practically speaking, it'll be one of many. But it's an issue that has crept up on us and has seen the Harper government reacting rather quickly to it and perhaps too hastily. I don't think anyone's thinking of it as potentially election-causing to date. I would submit that it should be placed in that category and is worth fighting against. Whether Harpie will make it a confidence matter is also a relevant question. Since it's all-confidence-24/7 these days up there, I think he'd be happy to oblige.

From the editorial:
Pandering to ethnic prejudice is a cheap way to win votes. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is pandering by introducing a bill to force veiled Muslim women to show their faces at the polls.

If there were any evidence that veiled women are contributing to voter fraud, Mr. Harper might be on solid ground. But the government has not brought forward such evidence. It has cited no evidence on the number of women who vote from behind veils. No one has said whether any do. This is a solution in search of a problem.

Yet the government has tabled a face-veils bill before trying to fix the real problem of a million rural voters inadvertently dropped from the rolls because they lack a formal street address. That says everything one needs to know about the supposedly constructive purpose behind the Conservative government's bill.

This is a bill meant to appeal to a sentiment expressed vociferously in Quebec that Muslim women should not be voting from behind face veils. On the surface, the sentiment seems reasonable; a country should not weaken the integrity of the vote by allowing voters to conceal themselves. But look at the facts. Voters are not required to show photo identification, largely because many people do not have photo ID. Two pieces of government-issued ID approved by the Chief Electoral Officer are enough. Alternatively, a voter with ID may vouch for another voter without. Beyond all that, a voter may mail in her vote from abroad. Without photo ID, showing a face proves what? That the bearer has a face?
The government says it is prepared to allow an accommodation: Veiled women may step behind a screen and show their face to a female elections official. How magnanimous. First the government singles out veiled Muslim women, implying they are doing something wrong, and then it offers them a way to earn their right to vote like everyone else. There is no voting-integrity issue here.
The ultimate act of pandering to the worst of people's sentiments. This has got to be stopped, one way or another. Stephane Dion has the fortune of being able to decide when we go to an election. I would suggest he pick an issue like this that is worthy of a fight. And at all costs, not one of Stephen Harper's petty, opportunistic electoral gambits like the GST cut that has been widely panned.