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Robocall scandal shatters PM’s legitimacy

March 2012

At last count, Elections Canada had received about 31,000 complaints of fraudulent electoral activity prior to last year’s federal election, misdirecting voters as to the location of polling stations or impersonating Liberal canvassers with late-night calls.

Because of its reach to ridings across Canada and attempts to cover it up—witness the cellphone bought by a fictitious Pierre Poutine of Separatist St.—the robocalls scandal is becoming more grave as revelations of alleged transgressions emerge.

Voter suppression is among the dirty tricks developed in the U.S. to skew electoral outcomes, and a scheme the ruling Conservatives appear to have adopted here in some ridings. Prime Minister Stephen Harper denies it is part of a top-down strategy, but others disagree.

As the scope of alleged irregularities grows, there are grounds to question whether this government got its majority through legitimate means. Certainly, what we know now taints Canada’s reputation and its role in helping organize and supervise fair and free elections in countries that seek to replicate our democratic ways.

Independent observers are appalled. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s respected and discreet former chief electoral officer, says these allegations are unprecedented in the country’s electoral history, and appear to be a systematic attempt to deprive Canadians of the right to vote.

Elections Canada is reported to have broadened its probe beyond Guelph to include former Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) employees in Thunder Bay, who told the RCMP they were ordered to direct voters to the wrong polling stations. RMG is a company that handles the Conservatives Party’s computerized voter-identification system and fundraising.

The latest report suggests that some ridings in Quebec, where the Conservative candidate had almost no chance of winning, were given money from the party and told to use it to pay RMG.

Le Devoir reported that a riding spokesperson in Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouta-Les Basques received no results after being given money by the party to pay RMG $15,000. It was a similar story in Chicoutimi-Le-Fjord, where the Conservative candidate said he only received polling results.

Said Kingsley: “We have never seen anything like this alleged case in terms of this potential organization and impact in terms of numbers.”

In Montreal, we have seen supporters of Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel attempt to tar Liberal MP Irwin Cotler with the brush of anti-Semitism. We have seen Conservative supporters call people in Mount Royal riding to spread the false rumour that Cotler was planning to resign and that a by-election was imminent.

The rot in Conservative ranks appears more widespread than anyone thought and the stolid image of the Harper government is irrevocably shaken. Its legitimacy may well hinge on the results of Elections Canada investigations. May its agents leave no stone unturned.

Voters who received misleading information on polling station locations or harassing phone calls allegedly on behalf of a candidate should complain to Elections Canada, at 1-800-463-6868



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