So things’ve taken an interesting turn in the land of Canadian politics: the Conservatives have been accused of all-out election fraud, in the form of misleading phone calls directing voters to incorrect or non-existent polling stations, impersonating Elections Canada officials, and posing as Liberal or NDP staff while making harassing, annoying, or otherwise unwanted phone calls (ie, calling people in the middle of the night, calling people repeatedly, etc). The first two are illegal under the Canadian elections act, while the third is in murkier legal territory, it clearly falls under the category of Scumbag Tactics.
The scope of the calls is impressive–over 50 ridings have been implicated, and Elections Canada has received 31,000 complaints. I am… astonished. I’m not surprised, because considering how the Conservatives have acquitted themselves these past few years, I’d only be surprised if I could find a level they won’t stoop to to get their way. But the breadth of this is amazing–31,000 people complaining to Elections Canada! For context, they normally get about 500-1000 complaints each election.
The allegations first came to light early last week in Guelph, and one party worker there (who briefly made national news during the election when he tried to steal the ballot box at the special poll set up at the University of Guelph) resigned as a result, and the Conservatives are trying to insist that now that he’s resigned, all’s well and fixed. But the allegations increased, more and more people came forward, and by now it’s abundantly clear that it’s not just one or two rogue partisan workers behind this. The reason all of this took so long to come out is that the stories are scattered, and until people start to come forward en masse, the true pattern doesn’t reveal itself.
But the pattern is very, very clear; it’s vanishingly improbable that such an array of people from MPs to citizens to call-centre workers are all making this up. Sure, MPs (or would be MPs–people like Martha Hall-Findlay*, who lost by a few hundred votes, are among the voices accusing the Conservatives of making harassing calls) have something to gain by this, but the call-centre workers? They work for low pay and are easily replaceable labour–they are more likely to be fired than to gain a shred of benefit out of coming forward. But there’s records saying that during the election, some call-centre workers were questioning whether or not they should be saying they’re calling from Elections Canada.
Most of the focus has been on the robocalls (which misdirected people to non-existent or incorrect polling stations), but we shouldn’t forget that there were live calls too. It’s not totally unconvincing that there was an unfortunate but unintentional error with an automatic calling system, but there’s a lot less wiggle room when there are live people are doing the calling. People have judgement, and can ask questions when things sound fishy, like, when you’re told to say you’re calling from Elections Canada, and your polling station is waaaaay across town from where you live. That is really what makes this both convincing and incredibly alarming to me. There is a good chance that we could have a significantly different make-up of the House of Commons, had there not been systematic voter suppression.
Because while the Conservatives can dance around this as a get-out-the-vote initiative gone awry, that’s what this winds up being: a systematic voter suppression effort. People do not have time to drive back and forth across town looking for their polling station. People do not have an interest in participating in an election when their interaction with political parties consists of obnoxious or harassing phone calls. People do not always have patience to sift through conflicting information when their voter card says one thing but they have a seemingly official call on their answering machine saying another. And what happens? Those people don’t vote.
Canadians are sent as observers to make sure that elections in other nations are conducted fairly, freely, and honestly. We are a nation that is internationally regarded as a nation that can hold other nations accountable for holding honest and fair elections, and our governing party may well have won if not the election then at least some seats on the basis of dishonest, underhanded, and illegal tactics. I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink in this column decrying the Conservatives’ motives, tactics, and actions, but I think this is a new low for them.
And I hope that Canadians at large see this as the troubling and problematic situation that it is, because if not, then what on earth is it going to take before we as a nation wake up to what is going on in our name under our noses? If Canadians don’t care about illegal voter suppression, if we don’t care that the foundations of democracy are been flouted, what do we care about? How can a nation as a whole, which is peaceful, prosperous** and generally not coming apart at the seams, just… not care that our elected government has no respect for the laws of the land that they’re charged with crafting and setting?
I know it’s a national joke that we care about politics only in passive once every four years, but the past decade as proven to us time after time after time that we can’t keep doing than and expect our nation to continue to thrive. We need to open our eyes to the gravity of these accusations, and if the fallout from 31,000 complaints to Elections Canada can’t do it, I don’t know what can.
* I may be a card-carrying NDPer, but I think Martha Hall-Findlay (a Liberal) is the bee’s knees. She’s very smart, an excellent speaker, and a straight-shooter take-no guff sort of person, and she’s exactly the sort of person we should be electing on all parts of the political spectrum.
** Of course that prosperity is spread unequally, and there are swaths of Canadians who don’t find themselves or the things that directly impact their lives and livelihoods not represented in the House, and who may be turned off politics for entirely different reasons.