Were election rules broken at the CPC convention?
The Conservative Party of Canada is currently under fire for potential voter fraud stemming from discrepancies in its claimed voter turnout, compared to the strikeout lists sent to each campaign. There was a 7,466 vote discrepancy between them. This has cast doubt on the legitimacy of Andrew Scheer’s May 27th victory, especially by Maxime Bernier’s supporters.
However, after having attended the leadership convention last month, another potential voting scandal that no one has yet addressed looms in my mind: passive electioneering.
Passive electioneering involves wearing or distributing campaign materials within polling stations. Section 166(1c) of the Canada Elections Act explicitly states that “no person shall, in a polling station or in any place where voting at an election is taking place, influence electors to vote or refrain from voting or vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate.”
Yet at the 2017 Conservative Leadership Convention in Toronto, I was handed a “Voters’ Guide” a mere 20 feet from the voting booths, inside the polling location. This Voters’ Guide was not obvious campaign material, and only bore its organization’s name—Campaign Life Coalition—in small font on the bottom of the pamphlet’s back.
This pamphlet “disqualified” all but two socially conservative candidates—namely Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux. Campaign Life Coalition, a social conservative organization that promotes pro-life and traditional values, created the pamphlet for its own supporters and distributed it to them by mail and online.
Jeff Gunnarson, a representative from Campaign Life Coalition, said, “when designing the guide, there was no discussion at the time how we would be distributing it at the convention—except that we would bring copies with us.”
“We designed the guide’s front page in such a way that it would not be immediately identifiable coming from Campaign Life Coalition. We wanted people to pick it up and read it—and once they did, they would see that our logo and name was prominently displayed throughout, including the back page,” explained Gunnarson. “Once opened, it is clearly indicated that this is not a general or Party voters’ guide.”
This design may have been a seemingly ethical way for the organization to reach readers outside the voting area who would have otherwise dismissed their pamphlet. However, inside the voting area, where careful readings are harder to come by, this created some confusion.
“It says ‘disqualified’ on the pamphlets,” said Maria Yordanova, a Conservative Party member who voted in-person at this year’s leadership event. “I found it very misleading.”
Campaign Life Coalition claims its intent was not malicious when distributing within the voting area. “When I saw that Scheer’s team and, later, Leitch’s team was handing their material at the door outside the voting room, I decided to stand there and hand out our material,” said Gunnarson. “No permission was asked nor granted. And there were no rules posted to confirm whether or not such activity was allowed.”
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Yordanova also noticed other groups engaging in passive electioneering. “I also disagree with people wearing Pierre Lemieux shirts being behind the ballot stations,” she said.
The problem, it seems, lies with the Conservative Party’s inability or lack of desire to control passive electioneering. Nowhere in the Party’s rulebook for the leadership race was passive electioneering addressed, and several requests for comments on the mater have gone unanswered by the Party.
Going forward, the Conservative Party should do a better job at preventing campaign material from exiting the exhibition hall and hospitality suites. Formal rules that comply with general federal election law should also be put in place.
When the results of this election are so close, and doubt has already been cast on their validity, the best thing the Party can do is ensure that our federally-sanctioned voting processes are respected.
Photo credit: Kitchener Centre Conservative Electoral District Association