THE BLOG

Anatomy of a Canadian Disgrace

03/26/2012 10:44 EDT | Updated 05/26/2012 05:12 EDT

In sport, in business, in politics, winning is generally viewed to be better than losing. Winning by cheating is never to be celebrated -- not in Russia, not in Burma, and certainly not in Canada.

The question is no longer whether there were nefarious activities to secure a Conservative victory in the Canadian Election in 2011. The question is "who done 'em?"

Long before the 2011 election, the Conservative party has had a policy of refusing to admit when they've done wrong and instead ridicule and scorn those who question their "end justifies the means" modus operandi, both in and outside Parliament.

The Conservative party is the first party since Confederation to be found to have committed election spending fraud for their "In and Out" scheme, which masterminded an overspending the election spending limit by one million dollars in the 2006 election and then have taxpayer-funded rebates fill the coffers of the participating ridings. They paid the relatively small fine and then unbelievably declared a VICTORY. No remorse, no "We're sorry," no "It won't happen again," no consequences. It seems no lessons learned other than: "That didn't hurt much -- what can we do next to get a majority?"

My colleague Mark Eyking has likened this to speeding on the highways in Central America with a wad of $20 bills in your pocket to offer to the police whenever you're stopped. This is an approach that has no respect for the law; the fine or bribe is just the cost of doing business.

It is clear that in Canada, even with respected institutions such as Elections Canada, we do not have in place the framework or consequences necessary to deal with operatives who will just happily pay the fines and carry on with behaviour that undermines the institutions and processes essential to maintain the integrity of our democracy in Canada. If a political party, indeed the governing party, can just pay a fine and those named can carry on as though nothing happened, if the MP's of the ridings involved in the illegal scheme suffer absolutely no consequences, how can we be surprised that these perpetrators will continue to flaunt the law and carry on with their "Catch me if you can and if you do catch me I'll just pay the fine" approach?

The 2011 election in Canada has been described by Bob Rae as Canada's "Nixonian moment." Question Period is dominated by eerily familiar "I am not a crook" rhetoric when they are not pathetically "blaming the victim" -- suggesting that the Liberal party would have been calling voters/supporters at midnight during their Passover Seder, calling again and again until they were truly irritated, and then calling on Election Day with the wrong address for the polling station.

I believe the Conservative party has to admit that they were behind the calls to Irwin Cotler's riding lying about his so-called imminent retirement. Will they admit that they were behind the calls into Glen Pearson's riding falsely informing voters that he spent six months a year in Southern Sudan? Glen's voting record would have made it quite clear that that was not the case, but the calls were placed so close to election day that Glen had no opportunity to defend himself and explain that he spent 10 days in Sudan every year in January when Parliament isn't sitting.

Whether it is the Conservative party itself or some others illegally working to "help" the conservative cause, the revelations of the misdeeds of the 41st election in Canada is an international disgrace. As former Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley has said, "We have never seen anything like this alleged case in terms of this potential organization and in terms of numbers."

In recent years, we have come to learn about the new science of voter suppression; an anti-democratic tactic that falls short of outright election fraud. In Stealing Democracy, Spencer Overton documents the truly appalling tactics and strategies being used to turn off voters and keep them home on election day. These strategies are particularly effective for young people, women, aboriginals, tenants, and immigrants, all of whom tend to vote for more progressive parties. The theory is premised on the reality that those who vote for right-wing parties -- what professor Christopher Waddell has called "permamad" -- are very good at turning out to the polling stations regardless of the election issues, candidates, weather. They vote. The theory continues that the lower the voter turnout, the greater the influence the right-wing parties will have on the outcome of an election.

A steady, unrelenting campaign that "all government is bad," "all politicians are bad," "pox on all their houses," "what does it even matter if you vote?'" and when caught "the other guys did it too," all compounded by negative advertising, drives the cynicism up and the voter turnout down. Over the years we've seen gerrymandering that turns ridings in smaller urban centres into pie piece shapes with tiny urban tips and predominately rural voters. We've watched polling stations removed from apartment buildings to locations less convenient to tenants.

Sadly, we have received more and more reports of irregularities in the last federal election. Even here in St. Paul's, Jewish voters were called during the first Passover Seder by callers misrepresenting themselves from the "Dr. Carolyn Bennett" campaign. We knew immediately that it wasn't our campaign -- we don't use "Dr." when referring to my campaign and we had made a decision NOT to call on the evening of April 18, 2011. On April 20, we reported these complaints to Elections Canada. Throughout the campaign, voters were reporting they had been called "numerous" times by our campaign, when the truth was, we had not engaged a call centre at all in that campaign and our volunteers had barely been able to call each household once! On Election Day, voters were called to be told that their polling station location had been changed -- an outright lie. One constituent, when she questioned the caller, was also told that she could vote twice.

More recently, truly serious revelations of calls misrepresenting themselves as from Elections Canada, directing voters to false voting locations, "stealing ballot boxes," organizing people not on the voters' list to "swear in" and vote anyway have put the results of the last election in question.

We believe that Elections Canada and the RCMP must have the resources to get to the bottom of any irregularities in last year's election. Elections Canada has identified 700 complaints from voters across the country with specific circumstances where they believe similar wrongdoing took place. The overwhelming majority of Canadians are calling for a public inquiry and the need for Elections Canada to have the powers to get to the bottom of this criminal activity. We believe that Elections Canada and the RCMP must have the resources to get to the bottom of any irregularities in last year's election.

In February, we had a terrific Town Hall meeting in St Paul's on electoral reform and the need for a more proportional system. The speakers were the Honourable Stephane Dion, Dave Meslin, Wayne Smith of Fair Vote Canada, and Donna Dasko of Equal Voice. The video is up on my website. We were all concerned that in the present system a majority government can be elected with only 39% of the 59% of eligible Canadians that voted. There were many comments that the so-called "strong mandate" for this government was actually derived from a small minority of Canadians. It was a truly important discussion on how we can work together over the next few years to build the civic literacy that will enable a serious conversation on reform of the electoral system. As we were discussing the need for a more representative democracy, we had no idea of the seriousness of the allegation of election fraud that would surface a month later. Electoral Reform is truly important. Electoral Fraud is criminal.

Last week, Bob Rae and the Liberal party called for a Royal Commission that would be able to recommend the necessary changes to ensure our elections procedures and enforcement mechanisms are robust enough to ensure every Canadian can freely exercise their right to vote.

The health of our democracy is at risk. Citizens have been seriously turned off. We need them back fighting for "peace, order and good government." Change will only happen when Canadians demand it. Let's get to the bottom of the problems with the 41st election and call upon the government to strike a Royal Commission to ensure that it can never happen again.

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It's not too late to report any incidents of electoral fraud. If you received any calls during the 2011 election that you feel interfered with your right to vote, please report it to the Commissioner of Elections Canada at: http://www.elections.ca/commissioner/complaint.aspx?lang=e.