Burned once after the nationwide "robocall" scandal of 2011—which sent one Conservative staffer to jail—federal Grits are taking no chances this time round as they warn their fellow Canadians to keep watch for dirty tricks.
Former Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion, who is now running in Saint Laurent, echoed an earlier call by his party for voters to report any suspected fraudulent activity to Elections Canada.
“We invited Canadians to be very aware that this may be repeated and we have a way to invite Canadians to report anything they think is not appropriate,” said Dion to National Observer during a visit to Markham-Stouffville this week to shore up first-time candidate Jane Philpott.
While campaigning in Markham-Stouffville remains a fairly civilized affair, Elections Canada has handled thousands of complaints from across the country of voter cards having incorrect information such as wrong names, or directing people to incorrect polling locations.
CBC reports that Elections Canada is already taking steps to fix the problem, re-issuing voter information cards in Saskatchewan and officials have said this problem crops up in every election, but in 2015, 80 per cent of voters are affected by changes to riding maps.
However, the Council of Canadians warned in an email to supporters on Monday that 436 voters in Calgary had received voter information cards from Elections Canada directing them to the wrong polling station, also saying that electors in the Yukon, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, P.E.I., and Nova Scotia had suffered the same problem.
“Ten years of Stephen Harper has not only damaged our economy, our social fabric, and our natural environment, but also our democracy,” said Dion.
On top of this most recent suspicious activity, Canada as a whole is still reeling from the fallout from the robocalls scandal that erupted soon after Stephen Harper won a majority government in the 2011 federal election.
During that campaign, thousands of automated phone calls misdirected voters to incorrect polling locations on voting day in key ridings, but government lawyers declined to press charges after the scandal broke.
The lack of action led Democracy Watch to launch its own private prosecution against the Tories in July, focusing its legal efforts on one individual at Conservative Party Headquarters who booked calls that gave voters across the country incorrect polling station locations— even after Elections Canada warned all political parties not to engage in such activities during the 2011 campaign.
So far, the robocalls scandal has resulted only in the conviction of former Tory operative Michael Sona, who was sentenced to nine months in jail on what some believed to be weak evidence.
His offence was putting out a robocall aimed at preventing 6,000 voters in the Guelph region from casting their ballots, resulting in 150-200 people being successfully tricked, according to a CBC article dated Nov. 19 2014.
“Canada is back”
In Dion's view, fixing Canada’s environmental record is a key part of repairing what Stephen Harper had destroyed during his 10 years on office. He said that Canadians were once hailed as heroes for hosting the Conference of Parties meeting on climate change in Montreal in 2005, when local media in Stouffville asked him about the upcoming Paris climate talks during his appearance with Philpott.
Dion said that the upcoming Paris Conference of Parties (COP) 21 talks were key in fighting climate change, which he described as “one of the worst threats we’re facing this century.” Like Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, however, he did not mention any emissions reduction target that a new Liberal government would commit to.
Canada’s lack of a COP-21 target is in stark contrast to emerging powers such as India and Brazil, both of whom have promised to slash emissions by more than one-third over the next decade, while ramping up renewable energy development in a bid to wean themselves off fossil fuels.
Nonetheless, Dion echoed Trudeau's promise that Canada would once again play a constructive role in both climate talks and international affairs in general.
“We want to say to the world Canada is back. We’ll do our best to help the world. Canada has been the champion of all the good causes imaginable – justice and fight[ing] for security and people and democracy,” said Dion to assembled media and campaign staff.
As the federal election looms, Philpott was focusing on concerns more local to her riding, chief among them being job security and employment for young people, as told to her by Markham-Stouffville residents.
However, fears over jobs are not as pronounced as in other swing ridings such as Essex, where many people have moved away to find work, driven out by a crumbling manufacturing sector.
Philpott was also keen to see a new government invest in infrastructure, including public transit that is vital to many people living in and around Toronto, as well as social infrastructure including affordable and seniors housing, and greater federal supports for green technology.
“The beauty of green technology is that we are only limited by our hard work and imagination and our scientific endeavors, and so if we continue to put the investments there, allow the job creation, promote incentives for people to be able to innovate, I think that there are obviously many areas where our green technology can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels,” said Philpott.
The Liberals have already promised to shift federal subsidies away from oil sands development towards investment in renewables. Philpott’s home province of Ontario is already joining forces with other provinces and states in rolling out carbon pricing programs and ever-greater investments in clean power sources such as wind and solar, as part of a continent-wide drive to slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Ontario itself has already shut down all coal power plants and is rolling out a carbon cap and trade system. Future projects include the electrification of its entire rail network.