Can we be sure the next election will be fair?

In my town hall meetings, I am privileged to hear from constituents about a range of issues. One concern that comes up frequently is deeply troubling. Voters are worried that we cannot count on the next election taking place without dirty tricks.

This is Canada. We send experts in electoral fairness to emerging democracies to make sure their elections are above board. I think even ten years ago the idea that we would be worried about the fairness of our elections would have seemed far-fetched or paranoid.

No longer. Now Canadians are worried. We experienced a widespread effort at voter fraud in 2011 in the so-called “robocalls” scandal. Through high-tech manipulation of technology thousands of voters across Canada received phone calls masquerading as a message from Elections Canada sending voters to non-existent polling places. The calls were not from Elections Canada, but from persons unknown. Public anger was widespread.

In response, the Conservatives tabled Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act. Controversy raged over parts of the bill that would make it harder for Canadians to vote, leading to some retreat by the minister. The section of the bill relating to robocalls received less attention. The act will require political parties paying for automated telephone calls to record their plans with the CRTC and save the scripts used, creating a record of the use of this technique. But the law will only catch those who are using the technology legally. It provides no new tools to catch those who are practicing fraud.

Shouldn’t we be closer in 2014 to knowing who was responsible for the 2011 attempt to defraud voters?  Every single phone call falsely claiming to be Elections Canada with the intent of misleading voters is a crime under the Canada Elections Act. Yet, we still have not had a comprehensive investigation. We have had two court rulings that bear directly on the question of how was the fraud perpetrated and who might be responsible. One case was of criminal charges against a young man in the Conservative campaign in Guelph, Ontario. The other was in Federal Court launched by voters in six ridings, with the backing of the Council of Canadians. These voters had received fraudulent calls in ridings where the margin of victory for Conservatives was razor thin. The Council of Canadians case asked the court to overturn the results in those ridings due to electoral fraud.

In the absence of any commission of inquiry, these two court judgments provide insight into what occurred in 2011. Having read them carefully, I want to share with you a troubling picture, suggesting we have a victim on the floor, a smoking gun on the table, and no one demanding we follow up on the finger prints found on the gun. Before the next election, I intend to keep pressing for answers.

In this issue…