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Students at the University of Guelph. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Students at the University of Guelph.

(Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Globe Editorial

Campaign of robo-calls have no place in elections Add to ...

Despite the juvenile nom de guerre “Pierre Poutine” that was used, allegedly by a Conservative operative, in Guelph, Ont., the robo-calls, if proven to have taken place, are more than a malicious partisan prank in the manner of the Liberals’ Vikileaks smear. Interfering with an elector’s ability to vote is an affront to democracy, and voter fraud is treated seriously – and properly so – as a criminal offence in Canada.

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Canadians are justifiably proud of the high standard of their electoral process, even if not all partisan participants are of a correspondingly high calibre. Indeed, Elections Canada has exported its expertise, advising many countries on how to conduct free and fair elections, and also on how to consolidate representative democracy by allowing a greater proportion of the population to actually vote.

It is disgraceful then, that “suppressing votes” by directing people to the wrong polling station on election day, as allegedly occurred in Guelph, in the 2011 federal election campaign, would be considered by some excessively partisan campaign workers to be an acceptable tactic. It is not, and the RCMP and Elections Canada must vigorously investigate the claims and, if warranted, prosecute those responsible.

But who is responsible? Elections Canada has received 31,000 "contacts" or messages from Canadians about receiving such calls, yet all the political parties deny any involvement.

Opponents of the Conservative government are seized with the idea that the campaign of robo-calls and other harassing tactics was being directed by senior figures in the Conservative Party. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is evidently convinced that this is not the case, as he stood in the House of Commons on Wednesday and stated the national campaign of the Conservative Party had “absolutely, definitively... no role in any of this.” No one has produced any evidence to contradict Mr. Harper.

All that is clear, for now, is that a great many Canadians believe that their democratic rights were assaulted in the 2011 election, and they blame the introduction of techniques that have been used in the United States to suppress votes, a campaign of deceptive or annoying phone messages.

The strong groundswell of revulsion from Canadians suggests that such tactics have no place in elections in this country.

Surely, for the present, the Canadian public should take Mr. Harper at his word – just as it should take both Pat Martin, the NDP MP who is taking a leading role on this matter, and Bob Rae, the Interim Leader of the Liberals, at theirs – until any or all of them should be found to be deficient in truthfulness and integrity.

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