POLITICS

How The Fair Elections Act Controversy Motivated One Illustrator To Get Involved

04/30/2014 05:49 EDT | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT

Marc Keelan-Bishop loves breaking down a complicated topic in a way that a child can understand.

For 15 years now, the illustrator has worked on various educational programs for schools and hospitals, creating sharp graphics to help kids grasp how motion sickness works, what puberty is or why it's important to get enough sleep.

But in all his years illustrating, Keelan-Bishop has never approached any political topic. Until now.

The intense debate over Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, struck a chord with the 40-year-old, father of two who works out his home in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

He says changing how Canadians vote is like "messing with the water," and not something that should be ignored.

"As I started reading more and more about the complicated new act and seeing the implications, I realized that the average person wasn't going to be able to figure it out," Keelan-Bishop said in a recent interview. "And that rang some bells."

In no time, Keelan-Bishop was illustrating some of the most contentious parts of Conservative government's proposed elections law overhaul in a way that, well, a child could understand.

Some of those issues — namely, a ban on voters vouching for individuals who have ID but no proof of address and restrictions on the chief electoral officer’s ability to speak about voting and engage in educational programs — were addressed in compromises announced last week by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre.

But Keelan-Bishop doesn't believe they go far enough to fix a bill he thinks was always intended to tip the scales in the Tories' favour.

"It just really felt like someone had either cleverly or accidentally selected bits of the current electoral law that you could change and that would seem reasonable," he said. "But when you put it all together and mix it with knowledge about the real world, how people operate, that people lose things and that lives aren't perfect, there were going to be a lot of people who couldn't vote."

And it would be the people nobody would really notice who would be most impacted, he explained.

So, Keelan-Bishop started with a "primer" of Bill C-23 about a month ago. At the bottom of the drawing, like all that would follow, he outlined how ordinary Canadians could get involved.

fair elections act primer

As the debate shifted and many experts shared fears voters could be disenfranchised — particularly Aboriginals, young Canadians, seniors in residences and the homeless — Keelan-Bishop explored the controversy around vouching.

He participated in a conference years ago with The Students Commission of Canada where a third of the young people were homeless. He said the experience gave him a chance to see what life is like when everything falls apart.

"And those were the people that, as I read more about the ID changes and the vouching, those are the people that I worried about. Because it's just so easy to say, 'well, you know, they probably don't vote anyway' or 'who cares about their vote' or 'there really aren't that many of them so it doesn't really matter,'" he said.

Keelan-Bishop feared those voters would have their democratic rights stolen.

"I think it's cheating because I think they're counting on the fact that, for the average Canadian, imagining what it's like to be at the bottom ladder of society is like imagining a colour you've never seen," he said.

fair elections act

A little later, Keelan-Bishop tried a new tact: appealing directly to Conservative supporters.

He believes that with a Conservative majority in Ottawa, the only way to bring about change is to convince Tory voters to pressure members of their party.

He says that with the exception of his time in Toronto, all of the ridings he has lived in have been right-leaning. And the average Tory voter, he said, wants balanced budgets and less government — not to get "tarred" by what he says is an unfair bill.

"Even if they are rabid Conservatives, I don't think the average voter wants to win by cheating," he said.

So, Keelan-Bishop produced a graphic explaining why Conservatives should oppose the Fair Elections Act.

fair elections act conservatives

After Poilievre backtracked on some of the most controversial aspects of the bill last week, Keelan-Bishop was quick to create an illustration making clear there's more to be done.

It was titled, simply, "We're Almost There."

fair elections act

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