It all began when Conservative MP Bev Oda resigned her position with the Harper government. The disgraced Minister of International Cooperation was responsible for a series of scandals that including being the first sitting cabinet minister to be found in contempt of Parliament, extravagant use of taxpayer dollars and repeat performances defying the law by smoking in her parliamentary office. Her eventual departure from politics spawned a by-election in the Ontario riding of Durham and all eyes across the nation are now fixed on the candidates vying to become her replacement.
Campaigns kicked into high gear for this second chance to win the public's support and federal Liberal Grant Humes has managed to generate controversy amidst the excitement. As his election sign was revealed on social media leading up to Remembrance Day, it generated negative responses from veteran families the candidate wasn't expecting.
(photo credit: provided by Humes campaign manager, Quito Maggi)
Facebook followers of the campaign page shared their criticisms ranging from "offensive" to "publicity stunt," "classless" and "shameless as stealing a poppy box." A concerned Afghanistan vet voiced disapproval and others indicated they would not vote for Humes as a result of this material.
Part of the problem was confusion about the sign itself. The candidate's name does not appear and it seems to be an invitation to a patriotic website in support of veterans. Upon arrival at Durham4Vets.org, visitors are greeted by press clippings regarding veterans' issues, followed by Grant Humes' reasons for seeking office and a bit about his work history.
Clicking the petition displays a form to collect personal information, requests a $20 contribution toward the veterans awareness campaign and support for "sound National Policy" -- although there is no petition.
In the same navigation bar clicking the "donate" option will cause a different box to appear; this time displaying the candidate's Liberal Party of Canada donation page pertaining to the by-election.
To clarify, I contacted Humes and he put me in touch with campaign manager Quito Maggi to respond on his behalf. By telephone and follow up email exchange, Maggi explained the purpose of the site and how it relates to the by-election. I also learned animal cruelty is an issue dear to the candidate's heart and a similar venture was set up to address those matters at StopTheCruelty.org. Both endeavours are authorized as part of the Grant Humes Liberal campaign, but some donations are separate for advocacy about the featured issue at each website. Manager Maggi elaborates,
"Any money raised through the Durham4Vets.org website goes right back into the public awareness campaign (and) yes the money raised from the animal cruelty campaign goes towards keeping that website active and paying for magnets that have been designed (a number have already been produced and distributed)."
When asked about support for these projects, the campaign cited intimidation from the Harper government as a reason veteran groups were afraid to speak up. As a result there were no official endorsements of Humes' initiatives to report. Regarding the websites and their strategy to educate with continued monetary support; the candidate said he planned to establish veterans and animal advocacy prior to any knowledge of an election. Maggi affirms,
"The websites were registered before the writ was dropped (on October 21) and there was no way for us to know when the writ would be dropped.
(Referencing veteran website advertising on election signs,)
"If we could keep the signs up after the election we would, but the sign bylaws are very strict."
StopTheCruelty.org and Durham4Vets.org are collecting funds through Liberal party mechanisms in the meantime. Whether a by-election campaign or public awareness for cherished issues, this confusion could result in consequences for those who are unable to tell the difference. The timing of a federal election coinciding with the candidate's project is reported to be incidental, but surely they should be kept apart for the public to perceive ethics in politics.
The last word is offered by Grant Humes who summarized,
"It's important we respect our Veterans and give them the benefits they deserve. What the government is doing is wrong and I hope people will add their voice and call on the government to take action."