OTTAWA – Leader’s Ledger – In a democracy free and fair elections are absolutely essential. Put simply, without free and fair election you simply can’t claim to live in a democratic country. Unfortunately, after spending years promoting democracy abroad and assailing other countries for not holding ‘free and fair’ elections of their own it would seem that some within the ranks of the Conservative Party and the Harper Government are unable to uphold those same values and principles at home.
In case you have not heard, the Conservative Party has been accused by New Democrats and Liberals of using a sophisticated computer automated messaging system to send false and misleading information to voters in dozens of ridings across the country in the last election. The false and misleading messages usually began with a voice saying that they were calling from Elections Canada to notify the voter that their polling location had changed from the one on their official voter card to another location far away from where they live, and sometimes in another riding. The problem is that these calls did not come from Elections Canada and the actual voting location had not changed.
As a result of these fake calls, thousands of voters went to the wrong polling station on Election Day and were denied the right to vote. As of last Friday Elections Canada had received more than 31,000 complaints from individual Canadians about these so-called ‘robocalls.’
This is not trivial stuff, or ‘sour grapes’ from sore losers as the Prime Minister has suggested in different ways since the accusations came to light.
The Conservative Party, and Liberals and New Democrats for that matter, would have known who many of their supporters were (by name and address) because of their own legitimate efforts to identify voters before Election Day. However, all parties would also have gathered this information about thousands of voters who were not supporting their campaign. Having isolated the phone numbers of the supporters of one’s opponents, any party or campaign could have then paid a firm to send the fake and misleading information out to only those non-supporters on Election Day, and for just pennies a call. If they falsely claimed to be calling from Elections Canada, then it is voter fraud punishable by jail time for individuals, and the official de-registration of the political party responsible.
The big question that is being asked about our accusation is; ‘why do we think it is the Conservative Party of Canada that committed these illegal acts?’
Well, we have several good reasons. First, the Conservative Party’s track record on election violations is quite checkered, as two party officials (later appointed to the Senate) were charged for violating the Elections Canada Act in the 2008 election by deliberately funneling money between the national campaign and several local campaigns so they could exceed the legal spending limits in those ridings. Second, the misleading ‘robocalls’ that are so far being investigated by Elections Canada originated from or were enabled by a Conservative Party affiliated polling firm called ‘Racknine,’ which has done work for no less than Stephen Harper in his own riding. Last, but certainly not least, the Conservative Party fired one staffer last week from the Guelph Ontario campaign over these fake phone calls, which to my mind admits guilt on their part in at least one riding.
So did this happen in Thunder Bay?
The evidence that I have seen leads me to believe that it did. Bruce Hyer’s campaign in Thunder Bay – Superior North officially filed a complaint with Elections Canada on May 3, 2011 – the day after the election – concerning some mysterious calls that flooded his riding from a Colorado based number.
As well, my campaign received many calls on Election Day from known supporters who claimed to have received calls about their poll location being changed. We initially wrote off the problem as a technical glitch at Elections Canada, but taking a step back and seeing that tens of thousands of people received similar calls across Canada it was perhaps a mistake to have not documented these issues at the time, but I am very glad that others did.
So if this actually did happen on a large scale in the last election would it have actually made a difference in the outcome? Absolutely. Since 200,000-300,000 misleading phone calls an hour can be placed for mere pennies it is entirely possible to confuse millions of voters who you know are supporting your opponents.
Since the Conservatives won their majority with the help of 16 ridings where the combined margin of victory was just 8,047 votes the outcome could have been altered dramatically. Without this interference, it can be argued that Canada would still have a minority government – led by either Conservatives or New Democrats – instead of the flailing and misdirected Conservative majority that is running our privacy, culture, and economy into the ground today. Stay tuned.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River