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Robocall roundup

May 13th, 2012 · No Comments


By Alexa Huffman

At city hall in April, councillors weighed in on human trafficking in Toronto, and sport fishing on the city’s lakeshore. But, a motion for new robocall rules for future elections especially stood out.

Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) wants robocalls to change in municipal campaigns. He is working toward allowing only Canadian-based companies to provide campaign telephone support. He also wants to make it a legal offence to mislead electors about how they vote.

He’s not the only one with this viewpoint.

“With any election, there should be established rules where parties attribute their call,” said Rob Leone, Progressive Conservative MPP for Cambridge-North Dumfries. Leone says residents in his community also feel such practice is not right, no matter what level of government.

“We are currently looking at calls placed in our riding citing a hostile infrastructure project,” he said, citing hospital expansion plans in the riding as an upcoming budget nears. “The content of the calls was misleading.”

Leone has gone to both the Premier and the deputy premier of Ontario with this issue. However, the major robocall issue may not play out smoothly in federal politics. Chris Cochrane, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said there are two sides to the issue.

“We need to look at laws and what the parties are able to do,” he said. “However, this has also been pitched as a partisan issue.”
While Cochrane says no one will defend what happened, it will take a while to sort out who is at fault for the alleged calls that intended to direct voters to incorrect polling stations in Guelph.

“It will break on party lines,” said Cochrane. “On the more Conservative side, it may be seen as just a rogue overzealous campaigner. On the left, it is seen as a systematic maneuver where Conservative wins need to be questioned.”

Conservative MPs are saying voter lists from Election Canada have mistakes, which means volunteers may have had wrong addresses.

The opposition claims there is a pattern of voter suppression.

As it stands right now, an Elections Canada investigation seems to only be limited to Guelph so far, but there have been other complaints in 200 ridings including at a more local level, Don Valley East in Ontario.

“In all instances, no party should be using chief communication lines to spread misinformation”—Rob Leone, (MPP, Cambridge North Dumfries)

Torontonians are expressing their displeasure, including in the Trinity-Spadina riding where Olivia Chow is the member of parliament.

“I went to a rally where there were many people including from my riding,” said Chow. “The people in Trinity-Spadina do care about democracy and agree there should be nothing interfering with their right to vote.”

The NDP is addressing the issue by asking for a public inquiry and asking the Conservatives to hand over their emails and database records. The issue has been debated many times in the House of Commons, with Liberal Party interim leader Bob Rae even calling for a Royal Commission.

“We would also ideally like to have Elections Canada have more power to investigate and more money as well,” said Chow.

As for farther into the future, Chow does have high hopes for future elections despite the apparent drawbacks.  “The riding results are being challenged,” said Chow. “There’s also the in-and-out scandal. I think people are starting to see through Conservative illogical practices.”

She still urges people not to give up on democracy.

“There are people who are trying to prevent us from participating,” said Chow. “But we can fight by being aware of what’s going on and participating even more,”

Even though Leone is on the other side of party politics, he also agrees with the importance of truth during elections.

“In all instances, no party should be using chief communication lines to spread misinformation,” said Leone.



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