I’ll try my best to write on this topic as it continues to unfold, though as I’ve seen observed over Twitter, I’m not sure if we’ll ever really get to the bottom of this. And the story only continues to spread, I may return to this as more details come to light. At last count
36 38 39 ridings seem to have been effected; as well, there is suspicion human callers used voter suppression tactics in the last election, as well. More on that below.
It all began when this story broke Wednesday February 22. Pretty soon a firestorm of investigation, consternation and speculation began, which only continues to expand as the House returns to sit today. Election Canada, aided by the RCMP, are conducting an investigation. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party of Canada are conducting an internal probe.
The story alleges that automates calls were made through an Edmonton voice-broadcasting company connected to the CPC named Racknine to harass and deceive voters, specifically those likely to vote Liberal. The issue is, as CBC explains, is that “[s]uch calls, known as a voter-suppression tactic, are illegal under the Elections Act. ”
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae soon spoke out against this issue, saying it helped to tip several close campaigns against Liberal candidates, and fits a wider misinformation campaign by the Conservatives (story here and here). Since, Mr. Rae has again requested an emergency debate on this issue (as shown here); if this request is granted today after question period, the debate would happen either later today or tomorrow.
Meanwhile, in one of the contested ridings in Guelph, Conservative staffer Michael Sona resigned amid the probe. When questioned about the robocalls, MP Peter McKay told CBC News in New Glasgow, N.S., that he believes the calls directing people to wrong or non-existent polling places were isolated incidents (as shown in this article).
The story continues to get more complicated as workers at a call centre called Response Marketing Group Inc. in Thunder claim they they were instructed during the last election by the CPC to state that Election Canada had changed their voting station, as written here. In this very detailed post, CBC’s Kady O’Malley has shared this story as well as campaigns that were clients of RMG Inc. in the last elections, and the polling stations that were changed by Elections Canada. This story continues a parallel story started by the attempt to discredit Liberal MP Irwin Cotler by phone calls by people (not “robocalls”) to constituents claiming Mr. Cotler was withdrawing from politics and triggering a by-election (as written about here) though this wasn’t the case.
Closer to home, there is concern that vote suppression tactics were used in London ridings, although Liberal North-Centre candidate Glen Pearson and London-West candidate Doug Ferguson were quick to indicate they don’t think the local campaigns were involved. The story of London-West is told here. Doug Ferguson stated he doesn’t think CPC MP Ed Holder’s campaign was involved, while MP Holder seems skeptical of the concerns. “Unfounded allegations are the worst part of politics,” he stated for the London Free Press. “If he’s got any evidence at all, he should bring that forward.”
Meanwhile, Glen Pearson is being asked about concerns he voiced near the end of the last election in light of this story. In this article, Glen mentioned how he
“started to get a frosty reception at some doors, with voters telling him they were upset because live callers were telling them he spends six months of every year in Africa. “It was primarily the fact that I had spent a lot of time in Africa,” he said. “It’s one week a year. And it’s in January, when the House isn’t even sitting.”
Sadly, this is just one story in a much later narrative, many similar cases are described in the article.
Beyond the facts and speculation swirling around this issue, there is an unfortunate amount of opportunism occurring at all sides. Conservatives shake their heads and insist the issue is being overblown, while many progressives seek to capitalize on this issue, some insisting that we should re-open the election through such means as calling for by-election in effected ridings. Glen Pearson captures it so perfectly in this comment, made in this blog post:
Canadian communities now look at Ottawa as some kind of theatre, replete with actors, henchmen, scripts, plots, fixed programs, and subterfuge. It’s been like this for years, perhaps even decades, and all parties have bought into it to one degree or another. This recent episode of the possible government interference in the electoral process is just the latest in a string of distractions. And it’s not just the Conservatives that are behaving badly. A quick perusal of social media finds the NDP and Liberals getting digs in at one another when the real issue should be about public trust, not who can gain the most from this debacle.
So, what is the best way to go ahead from this? As an avowed progressive that is trying to find moderation in my politics, I struggle. I am bitter with many of the actions the Harper Government has taken, yet I hope to join with others and work to find better ways of doing politics, despite the fact the system itself seems irredeemably rotten (as expressed in my post “Open Government”). I guess the ultimate goal is to identify but not glory in blunders made by the opposition, and be equally willing to identify them one of your “own” makes them. Easier said than done…I seem to be saying that a lot lately.
It’s a tremendously complex issue, but I hope we can work towards solutions. As Glen said, the real issue is public trust – actions such as the “robocalls” are undermining that trust, but if the opposition start digging not to expose the problem but to seek personal gain, that trust will only be harmed further. Where does personal responsibility end and personal interest begin? A very complicated issue, to be sure.