Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pierre Poutine And The Disappearing Democracy

I have written before about the current Canadian governing party doing whatever they can to suppress dissent and undermine democracy. There is now another scandal that strikes very close to home here in Guelph. Actually it is not really news, as this is something that happened during the federal election last May and was reported on locally when it happened. It is only now that the rest of the country has noticed that something is going on.

What originally happened is that on the day of the election, many Guelph residents received an automated phone call (known as a robocall) with a prerecorded voice claiming to be from Elections Canada and that the call was to inform you that your polling station had changed. For those who are knowledgeable, this is obviously not a legitimate call. First of all, Elections Canada never conducts robocalls, they do not give notice of poll location changes by telephone, and they do not even have lists of voter phone numbers. If a poll location changes, they will send out a revised voter information card or, if there is not enough time to do that, they will have officials staff the former location as well, and direct people to the new location. For most people who received this call, the new location they were given was downtown, which is not where these people lived. Most often mentioned was Old Quebec Street Mall, which to my knowledge has never been used as a voting location. Generally churches, schools, retirement homes, or community centres are used as poll locations. Recently there has also been some claims that similar calls have occurred other places in the country, including in some ridings (districts) where the election was decided by fewer than 50 votes.

On further investigation, the phone that made the suspicious calls in Guelph turned out to be what is referred to as a “burner” cellphone - a phone that is acquired, often under an assumed name, used for a short while then abandoned. This phone was registered to “Pierre Poutine” living on “Separatist Street” in Joliette, Quebec. Aside from the obvious fakery, the story takes a couple more interesting terms at this point. There is in fact a restaurant in Guelph that is called Pierre’s Poutine which, interestingly enough, is located in the vicinity of Old Quebec Street. Now this is not the same restaurant I reviewed a few months ago that also was in downtown Guelph and serves poutine. It seems that Guelph is becoming a regional poutine capital. Well, at least it may give Guelph some kind of food identity because it was known for absolutely nothing culinary before now. The owner of the restaurant of course has no connection to the scandal, but he is nonetheless enjoying the notoriety.

Next came a suspiciously coincidental resignation from a Conservative party aide who had extensive involvement in the election campaign in Guelph. Michael Sona was a communications director for the local Conservative candidate during the election and until recently was an aide for a Mississauga area MP. During the Guelph campaign he was involved in another mini-scandal. There was special early balloting on the University of Guelph campus because the election would have come immediately after the end of term so the poll was set up to allow Guelph students to vote in Guelph. Apparently the Conservatives had some concerns with how the polling stations were set up but Sona’s inexplicable form of protest was to attempt to grab the ballot box. I still don’t really understand why there were no charges laid in the incident and everything was kind of ignored. Now once the robocall story becomes national news, Sona suddenly resigns from his current position in the Conservative party. Again, we don’t know if he actually was involved in this exercise, but let’s just say it looks suspicious.

Then reports from other ridings across the country began coming in. Some calls were automated but others used live voices; some claimed to be from Elections Canada and some claimed to be from the Conservative Party and others may have claimed to be from one of the other parties. There were also calls from people claiming to be from the Liberal Party that called Liberal supporters at inappropriate times and were harassing or otherwise rude to voters. In many of these cases the calls have been tracked back to Conservative Party callers. Other ridings also had calls about supposed changes in polling station locations, some hours away from where the voter lived. It seems that the majority of ridings affected were heavily contested ridings and many had slim margins of victory. Thousands of complaints have been made with Elections Canada and they are now undertaking an investigation more comprehensive than they have ever done before.

Recently, another “interesting” situation has come to light. In a Toronto area riding, a high profile Liberal MP was defeated by about 4000 votes in a closely watched race, and the Conservative victor was rewarded with a position in Cabinet. This riding also received reports of Liberal supporters receiving harassing phone calls. Now we have found out that nearly 3000 late voter registrations were filed. In Canada, even if you are not on the voters list, if you are eligible to vote and you have a residence in the appropriate riding you can go to the polls on Election Day and fill out a form, including your address, show ID, and you can still vote. Since I have moved several times in the last few years I have had to go through this process more than once. But in this case, it seems many of those late registration form showed irregularities: in particular on many of these forms the address was left blank. In others, the address given was either phony or for a business. As the address is needed as proof you live in the riding, it must be a residential address. Despite lacking this critical information these forms were signed by election officials so these people were able to vote. We don’t yet know how many of those late registration forms contained irregularities, but reports now are saying there could be at least a couple thousand. When you consider the margin of victory was only 4000, this combined with the voter suppression tactics, begins to call the result into doubt. And if these registrations were apparently allowed from people without giving a valid address, is it possible they may even have voted twice? Do we need the purple ink in Canada too now?

While it is certainly possible that rogue Conservative Party sympathizers did this on their own without approval from leadership or the official campaign (apparently it is disturbingly easy and cheap to set up an account to send out robocalls to a given list of phone numbers - any one can do it with a few minutes, a few dollars, and instructions from the Internet), the number of ridings involved, the slight differences in tactics used, and the overwhelming pattern of which places and which voters were targeted suggests the party probably has something to do with this. And when we put this together with their general approach to governance and integrity, it seems downright plausible this was orchestrated by someone higher up. Also, as this seems to have been a tactic for voter suppression, mainly targeting those who had previously told the conservatives that they would not vote for them, it is consistent with previous government tactics remove the part of government that has to do with representing the people. They are forcing through a regressive crime bill that will establish tons of mandatory minimum sentences for broad ranges of crimes, removing a judge’s discretion in sentencing, and are trying to form a very intrusive bill very similar to the SOPA bill that was proposed in the US. There are all kinds of other things they are doing to ignore public or government opposition or to keep everything secret, but I won’t go into all that here. I just hope people won’t just forget about this like they have all the other scandals this government has been involved in. But that seems to be what is happening and meanwhile this party remains in government and even gains more power. I suppose it could be worse though. I don’t think there are many Canadians who take Rick Santorum seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Evan. I am saddened to see others are fighting the same dirty politic actions we in the USA have. To have any attempts to suppress voters participation is to loss democracy. We have such entrenched efforts here in the states, the efforts right from the top of the parties, the sad influence of huge amounts of money, added to the mix is the quote from one high ranking official that "it is OK and right to lie, cheat, or do what ever is needed, as long as we win".

    I think it has gotten so bad in the states because people are not paying attention, they are not involved. The politicians would like to have less involvement from the people, just be ruled and accept it quietly.

    Hugs and loves. Scottie