Robocalls? What?

Elections Canada is now investigating more than 31,000 reports of misinforming robo-calls and harassing live calls in 77 ridings. The Conservative Party has been accused of being behind these calls for weeks now, with critics arguing that the party may have used these tactics to swing results in its favour.

After it was revealed that Elections Canada was investigating an incident in Guelph of voters being called on the phone and told to go to polls that didn’t exist during last spring’s federal election, people across Canada have come forward, reporting calls of the same nature, or of harassment by people claiming to be calling on behalf of certain political parties.

Mr. Dean Del Mastro has claimed that our own Peterborough riding has been affected by mysterious callers claiming to be a part of his campaign, although he will not release the names of those complaining. He has reported the misleading calls to Elections Canada, calling for an investigation of all parties for inappropriate phone calls to voters. He is one of the only two Conservatives to come forward with such complaints.

There have been rallies in Ottawa, and Vancouver. Last weekend, several cities nation-wide including Toronto, Calgary, Guelph, and Peterborough, joined the wave of protest over the scandal and about the state of democracy in Canada.

The NDP introduced a motion that calls for the government to make three changes to the Elections Canada Act in the next six months: to give Elections Canada more investigative power (such as the ability to force political parties to provide documentation of their expenses), to require that all telecommunication companies register with Elections Canada during a general election if they are to provide voter contact services, and to require that these companies identify and verify the identity of their election clients (the political party that hired them).

In response, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said: “Mr. Speaker, we have no objection to such a proposal.”

One Conservative MP, Maurice Vellacott, has spun the robocall scandal in a different direction, claiming that Elections Canada will find that it is “significantly responsible” for the robocalls. He blames Elections Canada for “too frequently provid[ing] incorrect information” and having technical difficulties with electronic phone lists. The spokesman for the Prime Minister, Andrew MacDougall, has expressed that these views are Vellacott’s own, and that “The Conservative Party has been cooperating fully with Elections Canada.”

Conversely, Mr. Dean Del Mastro, who stood in for Harper to respond in the House of Commons last Monday, insisted that the Liberals alone are at fault for the scandal, demanding that they release records of calls made on the Liberals’ behalf during the last election, but denying that the Conservatives should release their own records.

Recently, there have been accusations of a last-minute influx of previously unregistered voters who cast ballots in the Eglinton-Lawrence riding in Toronto, and that there were at least 2,700 applications for late registration to vote in this riding that failed to provide addresses or gave false or non-residential addresses, according to CBC News. Failing to provide an address, or providing a false or non-residential address, violates Elections Canada rules.

Furthermore, there are talks of court challenges of the election results by two different MPs. Where incumbent Liberal MP Anthony Rota had lost last May’s election to Conservative Jay Aspin by 18 votes, in Nipissing-Timiskaming the Liberals have said that they’ve collected at least 30 complaints of misleading calls. Elections Canada has been concentrating on interviewing voters in this riding.

The other MP to legally challenge the election results is from Toronto: former Etobicoke Centre Liberal MP, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, lost by 26 votes to Conservative Ted Opitz. He claims that he has evidence of voter suppression, and evidence that some people may have voted in his riding without proper verification of their identity and thus that a significant number of ineligible voters could have possibly voted in his riding, swaying the election results.

One of the last successful federal challenges of election results under similar circumstances was in 1988, in Maurizio Bevilacqua’s York North riding; however, the issue was not over allegations that a rival party had violated the Elections Act; it was an error made by Elections Canada.

A new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, claiming to have surveyed a representative sample of 1001 Canadians online, has found that “81% want an independent investigation to find out exactly who was behind any misleading robocalls that may have been made in the May 2011 federal election.”

About Sara Ostrowska 34 Articles
Sara has been editor for Volume 47 (2012-2013) and Volume 48. She is a fourth year Philosophy and Political Studies undergrad. Her main interests are Canadian politics, and issues of law, justice and rights, feminism, and ethics. She is also a programmer on Trent Radio. You can follow her on twitter here!