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Robo Canada

Robo Canada

This is scary stuff. It now appears that Stephen Harper’s Conservative party may have tried to steal the last federal election. They may have skewed the votes in enough close races to actually have stolen their majority of 11 seats. Shades of the dirty tricks the Nixon Republicans used during the Watergate scandal. This may be one of the gravest crises our nation and our democracy have ever experienced.

The Liberals and the New Democrats charge that the Conservative Party orchestrated electoral fraud on a massive basis. They put in play an immense operation to steal the last federal election. In up to 40 ridings, mainly in Ontario, the Conservatives set in motion a complex, expensive plan.

First, on the days leading up to the election they masqueraded as Liberal workers, making repeated harassing calls, often in the middle of the night, designed to fuel voter anger against the Liberal Party.

Then on election day the computers took over and the robo calls began.

To look at the riding of Guelph in Ontario is to see the plan in action. On election day 2011, thousands of Guelph residents took calls from a computer.

An official-sounding recorded female voice said she was calling from Elections Canada and that the polling place had changed.

"This is an automated message from Elections Canada," the voice said. "Due to a projected increase in voter turnout, your poll location has been changed … We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."

The voice gave an 800 number to call. The same message in French then followed.

John Hudson is a librarian at the University of Guelph. He told The Toronto Star that he immediately suspected that something wasn’t right, as the "new" voting location, according to the message, was the Old Quebec Street Mall in downtown Guelph – not particularly close to where he lives. The original location, Laurine Public School, is about a three-minute walk from his home. He had also heard reports of strange calls similar to the one he received being made to other residents.

He was so alarmed, in fact, that he saved the message.

It now appears that millions of such calls were dialled by companies working for the Conservative Party on election day. Thousands of voters were sent to the wrong polling station only to find out that no such poll existed. How many single mothers, old people, people on tight schedules, just gave up in frustration?

The Liberals and NDP say such calls may have suppressed the vote, assisting the Conservatives to attain a majority. The government maintains that it knew nothing about the calls.

So far one young Conservative operative, who also tried to walk off with a ballot box on election day, has taken the rap and resigned. But trying to hang the whole affair around the neck of one operative didn’t work. To see how distressing the situation is, one has to look at some of the really tight races.

Linda Hearst and her husband, Ken Ferance, of Calvin, Ontario, say they also received a suspicious call on election day. Hearst says that shortly after they voted, they received a call directing them to vote in the town of Mattawa, about 20 kilometres away.

Both Hearst and Ferance worked on Liberal candidate Anthony Rota’s campaign and are worried the calls may have corrupted the vote in their riding (Nipissing-Timiskaming). Rota lost to Conservative Jay Aspin by 18 votes.

How did the Conservatives know who to call on election day to send them off on wild goose chases? The answer is in an Orwellian data bank Harper’s team has assembled over many years. Taking a leaf from their Republican cousins down south, the party engages companies that burrow into the lives of millions of Canadians from every kind of public and private source available. They know everything about you, including your voting inclination.

Even after the election the Conservatives flexed their robo muscles and targeted the MP for Mount Royal, Irwin Cotler. Calls went out to thousands of constituents claiming Cotler was thinking of stepping down. The calls were made to try and destabilize Cotler.

This story is not unfolding in some failed state, some shadow of a democracy. This is not Russia, where Putin’s party eliminated all opponents from the ballot, ensuring him another presidency.

What has happened to the Conservative Party of Sir John A. Macdonald, of Robert Borden, of Flora Macdonald, of Joe Clark?

As former parliamentary page Brigette DePape declared on her famous poster: "Stop Harper."

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