With a little less than a week to go before the election, Fair Vote Guelph and the Guelph chapter of Council of Canadians invited people to come down to a rally against voter suppression downtown in front of Old Quebec Street Mall. There, in front of what Michael Keefer called the “crime scene,” between 40 and 50 Guelphites recalled what happened in the last election, and promised to be onguard for any shenanigans that may occur on Monday.
“It is clear that democracy in Canada is in trouble, we’ve had fraudulent robocalls here in Guelph and across Canada, during the last election” said Fair Vote Guelph organizer Steve Dyck. “Elections Canada has been gutted, and it hasn’t been able to protect voters. How did this happen?”
It was noted that Wednesday was anniversary of the 2008 election, which saw a prototype robocall scheme occur in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands where a robocall got out the vote for an NDP candidate that had withdrawn his name, but remained on the ballot. As for this election, Dyck accused Harper of pitting voters against each other, vis-a-vis the niqab issue, and called whipped party votes in the legislatures in Ottawa and Toronto “a form of voter suppression.”
“He understands that a majority government makes the Prime Minster a dictator in Canada so long as party discipline remains strong,” Dyck said who pointed out that even opposition MPs were not immune to said party discipline, like in the case of the Liberals and the vote on Bill C-51. “Instead our MP was the Liberal whip who enforced party discipline because of this political culture, and I like Frank [Valeriote].”
All of the local candidates with the exception of Conservative Gloria Kovach and Libertarian Alex Fekri were in attendance, and each was given a chance to speak.
“It really does pain me to say that the robocall scandal that we’re discussing here today was not an isolated incident by any means, but part of the general erosion of democratic freedoms that has been going on for the past decade,” said Communist candidate Tristan Dineen.
“Ensuring justice will be done will require more than a simple change in government,” he continued, “it will require Canada’s working people in all their diversity to mobilize in the streets, organize in their work place and schools, and bring all their collective power to bear on elected officials of all levels and push for real change.”
“I took a personal approach,” said Marijuana Party candidate Kornelis Klevering. “I’m able to do that because for decades I have been prosecuted with friends of mine for the cultivation of marijuana, and it’s a Charter issue, so I have some experience taking these matters to court.”
Klevering outlined his three-and-a-half years in the courts to get the 2011 results in Guelph overturned on the basis that we have no idea how many people were prevented from voting. His motion has been declined every step of the way because the courts have said that he waited too long, almost a full year, before filing.
“My response is that no one’s ever late for standing up for democracy,” said Klevering. “For me, the robocall was an assault on democracy. It was a question of Charter rights that were violated, particularly section 3 that states that we have a right to vote in a fair and free election, and I felt that the voter suppression activities negated [the late filing].”
After a brief musical interlude from Ward 2 city councillor James Gordon, Green Party candidate Gord Miller said that what he found most disheartening was watching as a fellow civil servant, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, had his powers stripped. “That’s part of this problem because the Chief Electoral Officer has to have that power, to do that type of follow up and that’s been stripped away, and that’s a dangerous point that we can’t forget,” he said adding that the Green Party will call for a Royal Commission on the matter in the next Parliament.
NDP candidate Andrew Seagram reiterated vigilance. “We have to be careful on Election Day,” he said. “We’ve heard that scrutineers will slow the process down, and we’ve got to make sure we’re keeping it smooth and that the polling goes well on Election Day.”
Seagram also pledged to push for further investigation into 2011 upon the occasion of his election to Parliament. “When I get to Ottawa I will pursue this to the nth degree,” he added. “I will make sure that we have an understanding and that we have real legal umph to come down, and find out what happened, and that people get prosecuted fully for what happened in this injustice across Canada.”
While current Liberal candidate Lloyd Longfield was in attendance, it was outgoing Guelph MP that spoke for the Grits. “There’s nothing like corrupt contemptuous Conservative conduct to bring Greens, and NDPs, and Liberals and Marijuana Party, and Communist members alike together, and for a very good reason,” said Valeriote who recalled May 2, 2011 well. “I’ve said many times that it took more than one young guy in Guelph to perpetrate this fraud across Canada, and the federal court and our local court here in Guelph have supported that it took the work of many, and in my opinion it goes to the top.”
On the other hand, Valeriote is not as confident as his other colleagues that we’ll ever get the whole story. “The regrettable thing is that it won’t be fully exposed over time,” he added. “I’d love for it to be. I think what troubled me the most is what happened afterwards. It is up to us as citizens to keep up the fight.”
In the end, that was the message of the gathering. Be vigilante, be aware of your rights, and if you receive any suspicious or aggressive phone calls, let the proper authorities – Elections Canada, the CRTC, et al – know right away.