VANCOUVER - Prime Minister Stephen Harper may get a sense over the next week whether the robocall scandal has struck a nerve with voters as the first of a series of protests rolled out in Vancouver on Saturday.
Carrying placards and flags, chanting slogans and following police on motorcycles, a modest number of demonstrators that included members of Parliament, union leaders and average citizens marched to a prominent war memorial from the Vancouver Art Gallery.
"Messing with the vote is just really for me the last straw, and I think for a lot of Canadians this is where the rubber hits the road," said Sarah Beuhler, co-organizer of the Vancouver rally.
"I'm rally scared for our democracy. The bills that we're seeing coming out of this majority government -- we're harkening back to the George Bush era in the States."
The protesters called for a public inquiry into the matter.
The robocall scandal broke after it was revealed that Elections Canada was investigating an incident in Guelph, Ont., of voters being called on the phone and told to go to polls that didn't exist during the May federal election.
Since then, Canadians in dozens of ridings have reported receiving similar calls, or being telephoned at inconvenient hours or harassed by people purportedly calling on behalf of political parties.
Elections Canada is now reviewing more than 31,000 reports of robocalls.
Harper has denied the Conservative party was behind the calls. He has tried to put the blame on the Liberals who have also denied responsibility.
The Vancouver rally attracted just a few hundred people, according to an unofficial police estimate. It remained to be seen whether a second rally planned for Ottawa on Monday or several set for Mar. 11 in cities like Toronto and Calgary would draw larger turnouts.
Jon Allan, who is organizing the March 11 rally in Toronto, said people at the very least want an independent inquiry. However some have posted calls online for the government to be dissolved, he said.
"This has really struck a nerve because it has to do ... with one of the oldest tenets of our civilization and that is democracy," said Allan.
"What's important is that Canadians know or show that the democracy has been undermined by what is ostensibly a stolen election."
Regardless of the turnout, the publicity the protests are likely to generate will help keep the robocalls flap alive in voters' minds.
A new poll suggested the scandal has not yet created a public backlash for the Conservatives who have nonetheless seen their popularity erode from May’s election.
The Ekos survey, done Feb. 21 to Feb 28, just as the media attention over robocalls was starting to ramp up, found the Conservatives had the support of 31 per cent of respondents, down from the 39 per cent they enjoyed on election day last May 2.
The Conservative support was just two points better than the New Democrats at 29 per cent. The Liberals were in third place at 21 per cent.
A news release from Ekos noted that voter displeasure with the government’s online surveillance bill was a greater irritant to voters than the robocalls controversy.
A total of 3,699 were interviewed for the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
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