The appearance of Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand before the Procedure and House Affairs Committee was to a packed house. Everyone was happy to see him there – even if most of the NDP MPs on the committee were late in arriving, and the fact that Bob Rae turned up to join Marc Garneau for the Liberal contingent was sure enough of a sign that he was taking this seriously.
Mayrand’s opening statement gave us a few new facts – that the volume of contacts that Elections Canada has received has climbed to 40,000, of which some 800 are specific complaints; that the Elections Commissioner and his investigators have been looking into specific complaints since May 5th of last year; and that there were some 61 late polling location changes in the last election. But perhaps the most important thing that he kept hammering home was that Elections Canada does not have a list of voters’ phone numbers. They couldn’t call voters even if they wanted to. And this is a very important thing to remember.
Why? Because the narrative that the Conservatives were trying to build was that this was really just about errors on the voters list. Yes, there are errors on the list, Mayrand says. It’s hard not for there to be – it’s a database of 24 million names. It can never be fully accurate because the moment you print it out, it’s no longer accurate since people move all the time, and it’s not mandatory that people notify them. And yet one Conservative MP after another kept returning to the point of these errors. That, or trying to minimise the extent of the issue. It works out to one complaint every 100 polling stations – not that they’re trying to minimise this. 800 specific complaints in 200 ridings? That’s like four per riding – not that they want to minimise this. At the same time, they would say that one legitimate complaint is too many. But of course, these 800 complaints are “unsubstantiated,” which by the way is not another word for “unproven,” even though they tried to use the two interchangeably. Oh, and can’t this be chalked up to errors on the voters list?
No, Mayrand put his foot down. Calls from people claiming to be Elections Canada to misdirect voters are not errors – they’re outrageous and should be dealt with severely. And to that effect, Mayrand spoke about reviewing the penalties currenty in place within the Elections Canada Act, which he says need to be improvement as many penalties are simply too lax, and he’ll be submitting that report to Parliament in addition to the one on the ongoing investigations.
There were a few more interesting revelations: that they’ve determined that some 6700 calls went out from RackNine in the Guelph riding, of which they only received 70 complaints, so make of that ratio what you will. There are 250 files now open on the election being investigated. That they are looking into evidence of “voter augmentation” in those ridings, but much of the evidence is vague, or that what is being taken to the media is not necessarily proper (like copies of special ballots, which are not voting day registration forms). And that the court proceedings currently underway in eight ridings, trying to overturn the results, are a separate process that he will cooperate with when asked, but are otherwise not his jurisdiction. Oh, and he didn’t pre-clear those robo-calls that Frank Valeriote’s campaign made, but it’s not clear if they fell under the legislative grounds of advertising – which is his domain – so they’re continuing to investigate it, no matter how much Tom Lukiwski tried to get him to condemn them as having been illegal.
But above all, Mayrand’s message is this – let the investigations continue, and don’t draw any conclusions prematurely. He plans to have his report on the issue tabled in Parliament within a year, but will certainly try to get it tabled as soon as possible. In the meantime, the committee has agreed to call Mayrand back before the House rises in June so that he can update them as to the progress of the investigations, and that they will also call the Commissioner of Elections for him to discuss his own investigations – or at least as much as he’s able to reveal at this juncture anyway.