It looks like the Liberals and New Democrats are back at their usual and constant partisan political game-playing. Today, it was reported that Liberal MP Ralph Goodale went to the media to “warn” Canadians to be prepared to face vote-suppressing anonymous telephone calls being made in upcoming by-elections (see: “Goodale warns upcoming byelections at risk from deceptive robocalls”, Ottawa Citizen, August 21, 2013). The article also reports that the NDP are also expressing concern about the potential for electoral abuses, thanks to Stephen Harper’s proroguing parliament.
Look, voter suppression tactics used by someone (or someones – and probably by the Conservative Party of Canada) during the last federal general election (after practicing in select ridings in 2008) were a very serious matter – one that strikes fundamentally at the heart of our democratic processes. To intentionally mislead voters about polling locations in a co-ordinated effort to prevent them from casting their ballots – well, frankly, that’s absolutely vile and cannot be tolerated in a mature democracy. That Elections Canada hasn’t been given the resources by the current government to get to the bottom of this matter is proof positive, in my opinion, that Canada long ago ceased to be a mature democracy. These are the sorts of tactics which Canadian observers of elections in third-world countries used to investigate, and now they are being practiced here.
So please: don’t for a moment believe that I don’t take the “robocalls” fraud seriously, because I do. It’s an issue that I’ve been following for years now – ever since a misleading robocall was made to voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands in the 2008 federal election, which urged voters to cast their ballots for the NDP – even though the NDP’s candidate had dropped out of the race prior to election day. The culprits behind those robocalls remain at large, as does Pierre Poutine and others who were involved in the wide-scale voter suppression fraud of 2011.
But today’s calls by Liberal MP Goodale and the NDP have a ring of hollowness to them. Indeed, that tone we’re hearing is one of partisan politics rearing its ugly head, making an intrusion into a very serious issue. The Liberals and NDP want voters to think that Harper’s prorogation has left them exposed to further frauds, because election reform legislation will now be delayed, thanks to the next session of parliament being bumped back by a number of weeks, possibly a month.
Let’s step back for a moment and examine these partisan outbursts. First, does anybody really believe that any election reform legislation introduced by Minister of State for Democratic Reform, Pierre Polievre, would satisfy the Liberals and the NDP (or anyone concerned about a healthy democracy, for that matter). I seem to recall the Liberals and NDP (and Greens) went batty when Harper announced that Polievre would head the Democratic Reform portfolio. As with the many Ministers AGAINST the Environment Harper has appointed the past, no doubt Polievre’s legacy will prove to be just as stellar (and one can only hope, just as fleeting). So, if known in advance that the legislation which is going to be delayed would be deemed inadequate, what’s the real concern now? With a majority in the House, the Conservatives will be able to do as much, or in this case as little, as they want.
Further, it’s highly unlikely that new legislation could work its way through the House to take effect in advance of by-elections being called anyway. The Liberals and NDP know this – but it hasn’t stopped Goodale from cynically trying to scare Canadians today.
Next, given that Goodale and the NDP are talking about the voters being at risk in the upcoming 4 by-elections due to a lack of action in the legislature, maybe we should assess similar circumstances as points of comparison. Quite certainly, voter suppression tactics were used in the 2011 general election – the numerous complaints made to Elections Canada have been abundantly reported. Given that there has been no action taken by the government to change the legislative or regulatory environment under which elections are held in this nation, it stands to reason that voters have been at risk between May, 2011 and today, August 2013. Interestingly, during that time period, there have been a number of other federal by-elections (Toronto Danforth; Durham; Calgary Centre; Victoria; Labrador). Now, it may be that I missed it, but I don’t seem to recall much in the way of controversy over voter suppression tactics in any of those by-elections.
Yet Liberal MP Goodale would have Canadians believe that, given the same circumstances which applied in other by-elections, voters in the upcoming by-elections are now at risk from voter suppression tactics being employed against them, simply because Harper has prorogued parliament.
I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t wash.
And here’s the real kicker, for your consideration.
The 2011 voter suppression tactics which have received the most media scrutiny were the ones which were made to voters in certain ridings from callers pretending to be from Elections Canada or not identifying themselves at all, for the purpose of misdirecting voters to wrong polling stations. Often, complainants who received these calls had reported previously receiving calls from the Conservative Party, and had indicated that they had provided info to the Party to the effect that they were not supporting a Conservative candidate. Those calls made in 2011 are the fraudulent calls which have disturbed so many Canadians.
The kicker is this: under existing legislation, the law is very clear: it is illegal to impersonate Elections Canada, and it is illegal to make calls without identifying on whose behalf the calls are being made.
So new legislation really isn’t needed to spell out that misleading robocalls (or any other type of misleading call) is fraudulent and against the law.
Of course, both the Liberal Party and the NDP should be aware of these provisions in existing legislation, given that both engaged in illegal activities involving phone calls. In 2011, the Liberals made calls to voters in Guelph, Ontario, to complain about the Conservative candidate’s stance on abortion. These calls did not identify that there were being made on behalf of Liberal candidate (now MP) Frank Valeriote. The NDP was dinged by the CRTC as well for making calls into the riding of floor-crossing MP Lise St-Denis, urging call recipients to press a button and be connected directly to St-Denis’ office to complain. The NDP did not identify that the call was being made on behalf of the Party.
Given all of the above, Goodale’s “warning” to Canadians today, echoed by the NDP, stinks of partisan game-playing, and to me represents yet another reason why the old-line parties just can’t be trusted with Canada’s future. The Liberals and the NDP continue to show that they will put their partisan spin on matters of importance to Canadians, hiding the truth whenever convenient, and take action which is misleading – all in an attempt to gain or hold onto power. Canadians deserve better than this. Our future is at stake here, and our elected officials seem more intent on playing games with the issues than engaging in meaningful debate.
In short, the Liberals and the NDP are doing what they can to show voters that, when it comes to spin and misdirection, they are no different than the Conservative Party which they attack. It’s sick and cynical and I’m disgusted by it all.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)
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