The main reason I decided to start blogging at this time, was that a number of things happened during the recent by-election in Kitchener-Waterloo that I thought were improper and compromised the democratic process. Things that most voters and newspaper readers didn’t hear about.
First, I’m very glad that Catherine Fife took the riding for the NDP. Neither she nor her party engaged in any of the undemocratic practices mentioned below, to my knowledge. And I’m glad she won by a comfortable margin and there can be no doubt about the legitimacy of her win. She’ll make a good MPP.
Still, democracy itself is getting gradually tarnished, with each passing election. We are all aware, for example, that Premier McGuinty’s choice of an election date during students’ big moving week of the year disenfranchised many of them. In a city like Waterloo, with two universities and a community college campus, that could make a difference of up to 40,000 voters out of an electorate of approximately 100,000.
If a student did manage to establish residency and get the right to vote – and some co-op students never could – there wasn’t time to familiarize themselves with the issues and the candidates so as to make an informed choice. Democracy Watch has suggested that choosing such an election date should not be allowed.
There were ten candidates in the by-election. Many voters never heard about the six that weren’t from the four major parties. For the first time that I can remember, the Record newspaper’s televised debate at Waterloo Inn did not include the minor candidates. One of these candidates, John Turmel, tried to get the audience to support him in shouting, “Add More Chairs! Add More Chairs!”, but he was escorted out by police. – Then as the moderator was introducing the proceedings, candidate Elizabeth Rowley spoke up from the back of the room (without benefit of a mic) that she objected to being excluded, and a five-minute argument ensued.
A friend of mine, Marty Suter, acted as campaign manager for Elizabeth Rowley, who is the leader of the Communist party in Ontario, and from him I heard a lot of things that were an eye-opener.
A few days before the Record debate, they heard by chance that there was an all-candidates’ meeting at a seniors’ home. They hadn’t been told of it. Marty spent the morning trying to get Liz included, and finally succeeded because none of the organizers’ arguments held water. Thus Liz had the chance to talk about the rising rate of poverty among seniors in our region.
The next week was the debate sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Liz Rowley was the only fringe candidate to try to get included this time, but the police removed her from the room. A supporter of hers, a disabled woman, then stood up and shouted, ” This is not democracy!”, and she too was removed by police.
When I heard about all this, I wrote a letter to columnist Luisa D’Amato at the Record. I asked why police were used at both the Record and Chamber of Commerce debates, for the first time. I asked, “What do you think of a political process in which the police silence candidates?” D’Amato lamely replied that these debates had been private affairs and the Record and the Chamber had the right to invite whomever they pleased. To which Rowley replied, as she had said that night, “This is not an invitation-only event! This is an election!” Her statement received good coverage in the Waterloo Chronicle.
But it wasn’t only ‘fringe’ candidates who found themselves manipulated and excluded. An announcement went out from a group called the Quality Care Alliance and the SEIU, a union that represents many caregivers in nursing homes, that a free forum with the candidates would take place on Aug 30 to discuss seniors’ care. The poster, which Marty and Liz received by chance while having a coffee at Tim Horton’s, mentioned the PC, Liberal, and NDP candidates by name. It also said that “top government officials” would be there.
The night came, and Liz Rowley and Marty attended. But strangely only Eric Davis, the Liberal candidate was there – and who should turn up but Deb Matthews, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care! The Liberals’ photo op didn’t go as planned, however, as the front-line caregivers in the audience gave Matthews an earful about their dreadful working conditions and low pay.
Afterward in the lobby, Marty and Liz heard supporters of the Tories and the NDP tell Record reporter, Chris Herhalt, that their offices had received confusing calls that day saying that the event was cancelled. Something sounds very fishy. Herhalt reported their statement in his excellent news item on the event in Aug 31’s Record. But I guess we’ll never know just what happened with those apparently fraudulent phone calls that kept candidates away.
Getting back to the return of students to our campuses, Liz Rowley decided to go to the Student Life Centre at U of W on Tues Sept 4 to hand out leaflets. Soon she was stopped by campus security. When she explained that she was a candidate and had the right to meet with voters, they blocked her from leafleting for an hour while they checked with Elections Ontario. The upshot was that Elections Ontario (unlike Elections Canada) considers university campuses and malls etc to be private property, and that the owners have the right to stop candidates from handing out literature if they so choose! The next day Rowley was similarly shooed away from Wilfrid Laurier U by campus security there.
Are students aware that candidates don’t have the right to canvass them on campus during Ontario elections??? They should be mightily concerned about that. I wrote a letter to the U of W student newspaper, the Imprint, telling them of this incident.
Most people don’t know about all these creeping and incremental ways that the foundations of democracy are being eaten away at.
I didn’t mention that both the Waterloo Chronicle and the WLU student newspaper sent questionnaires to only the four major candidates. Or that student residences’ official lists of occupants were no longer accepted by Elections Ontario as proof of address. One desperate co-op student asked, Is there a way that we can register as homeless, so as to get an address for voting purposes through a local shelter?
And I didn’t mention that neither the media nor the Tory candidate showed up for the all-candidates’ meeting sponsored by the Common Front, an emerging activist group on poverty across Ontario. Despite the launch during the campaign of the Common Front’s eye-opening report on growing income inequality, the topic of poverty was ignored by the major candidates. I hope to write lots more about poverty and the Common Front in future on this blog.
Meanwhile our electoral process needs a lot of attention by citizens, if we don’t want what democracy we still have to slip away.
Sent: Sunday, August 26, 2012
From Eleanor Grant to Lynn Haddrall, Record Editor-in-Chief:
Subject: Forum should include all candidates
Is it true that the Record-sponsored by-election forum will no longer be an All-Candidates Meeting?
Your article Saturday (not attributed to any writer) was vague on this.
It would be a real blow to voters if we were denied a chance to hear our candidates. Columns on the op ed page are not enough – we have to hear them interact.
At the very least Dettweiler and Rowley should be included, because they represent longstanding parties.
Please see that there’s a real forum on Monday night. You still have time to make it right.
Dear Ms. Grant,
Thank you for your email asking about our election forum.
The Saturday article is correct in stating that our election forum will feature the four main party candidates. We have not referred to this as an all-candidates meeting.
All candidates have an opportunity to reach readers in their own words on our op-ed page. And we will cover all candidates in our newspaper and online as the campaign continues.
Thanks again for your feedback.
From Eleanor Grant
To Luisa D’Amato, Record columnist
Last Sept you wrote a dandy column “If candidates won’t show, why should voters?”
Well this time, for the first time ever, the Record forum excluded all but the 4 major parties. Police forcibly removed John Turmel (admittedly a bit of a nut case), and the moderator shouted down Elizabeth Rowley for objecting to being excluded.
This is a sad day.
Then on Wed night Rowley was ejected by police from the Chamber of Commerce debate. A disabled woman then spoke up, “This is not democracy!” and she too was removed by police.
I can’t remember there ever being police at all-candidates’ meetings before. Why are these heavy-handed tactics being introduced? A friend of mine wants to know whether the police were there on the taxpayers’ dime, or if off-duty officers were rented by the Record and the Chamber.
Personally I would have liked to hear from Rowley because she has innovative things to say about eliminating the deficit and respecting collective bargaining. She’s making a good impression when she gets to speak.
What do you think of a political process in which the police silence candidates?
Thanks for your thoughtful note.
I can’t be sure, but I think the police were hired for the event by the Record. The only private events that the police do for free, are funeral escorts.
I don’t know why it was thought necessary to have them there. You could ask Lynn Haddrall, the editor — she is at firstname.lastname@example.org
I understand where you are coming from, regarding the elimination of some candidates. But it is the Record, or the Chamber, that organizes and pays for the event. It is our “party,” so to speak, and we should invite who we like without being criticized.
Moreover, all the 10 candidates are profiled in the Record.
I kow it is a difficult decision, but we never would have got through all those questions if 10 people had answered each one instead of 4. Most people are voting for one of the top 4 and would have got bored. And it was Elizabeth Rowley who was shouting down our process. Only after she became disruptive did our moderator push back at her.
Public and private places are different, I think. If the candidate was trying to speak out or hand out literature at a public place like a park, or Speaker’s Corner, and police stopped her, that would be different, in my opinion. That would be wrong.
But I believe we were no more obligated to have her or the other “fringe” candidates at our forum, than you are obligated to invite people to your house. I hope I’m making sense!
Liz Rowley’s comment:
Not making sense. Elections are not ‘invitation only’ events – and they’re not private functions. Elections are public, and every Canadian over 19 is a participant. They are a constitutionally protected right of both the electorate and the registered political parties and candidates. Not ‘some parties’, or ‘some candidates’ – all.
The public has a right to know what parties and candidates have to say and what policies they offer – as the essential prerequisite to cast an informed vote. The Record has no right to interfere with that – and in fact has a moral responsibility – if not a legal one – to facilitate the public’s right to cast an informed vote.
The Chief Electoral Office of Canada – Marc Mayrand – issued a public letter (on the Elections Canada website) in the last federal election which said that all-candidates’ meetings had to include all candidates, or there had better be a very good reason why not. The CEO in Ontario should do the same thing.
On the purely financial side, the ‘some-candidates’ who get to be seen and heard – often on TV and radio as well as at the actual venue of the debate – are the recipients of the valuable gift of free advertising, which is denied to those ‘other-candidates’ who are excluded from the debate. That’s a material benefit, and an undeclared donation from the TV, radio, press and meeting organizers who are providing the coverage. It’s also a donation received, but not reported, by the candidates. It’s often a corporate donation furthermore – and often from privately owned media like the Record, CTV, 570 Radio, etc. Hiding contributions, not declaring them, over-spending, are all illegal in the Elections Act. That’s what this is, plain and simple. An advantage for some candidates, and a disadvantage for the rest. And it has a financial value.
Apologists like D’Amato often cite the leaders’ debates as justification for their illegal and undemocratic positions.
Why are the leaders’ debates such exclusive affairs? Because the Elections Act doesn’t cover them, and they are exclusively set up by and for the networks, under the Broadcast Act -unbelievable though that is. That’s why it took a huge public outcry to make them include Elizabeth May in the main debate – after first refusing to even consider it in the 2008 election. This should be fixed – but Parliament and the Legislatures like it just the way it is – favouring those already in the House – and to hell with democracy, the ‘level playing field’, and the public interest too.
The Record’s pitiful effort (too many chairs, the public would be bored) to defend their indefensible curtailing of democracy shows just how biased towards the Big Business parties the Record is – a real ‘kept press’. But of course it’s privately owned – by TorStar – a Liberal rag.
They must know their position is transparent, won’t stand up to public scrutiny, and that’s why the police have been called to attend these debates. Just like when Mike Harris was Premier. Those who, like myself, object to the attempted privatization of Canadian elections, are dubbed ‘disrupters’, which is code to justify a uniformed police presence at election debates and to permit police to physically remove those like me who disagree, including nominated candidates, voters, and interested members of the public.
Well the Record ought to worry. Those they shill for are falling out of favour with many voters, especially the young, the unemployed, and the working class – a big majority in other words. Austerity policies, including privatization of social programs, and attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms, including privatization of the franchise, aren’t big vote getters these days.
Record article by reporter Chris Herhalt
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Deb Matthews speaks at town hall over home care funding increases, meets with unhappy personal support workers
by Chris Herhalt, Record staff
WATERLOO — Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews visited Waterloo on Thursday to tout her government’s increase in funding for home care, but front line workers and their union representatives say there are troubles in the field beyond funding.
At a town-hall meeting hosted by the Quality Care Alliance and the Service Employees International Union, several personal support workers who visit the homes of elderly clients and those with disabilities told Matthews and Liberal byelection candidate Eric Davis they felt underappreciated and overworked.
Matthews told attendees the Ministry of Health would be increasing funding for community-care services like home care by four per cent a year for three years.
Jim Burke, who serves seniors and others as a personal support worker around Cambridge, told the minister he felt as though he had the “lowest paid college-educated (job) of all.”
He said there was a large discrepancy between what he was paid and what personal support workers were paid to work in long-term care homes.
“I know who in our health-care system is working their heart out,” Matthews said. “And we need to do better for you. So I hear you.”
She later said the pay discrepancy was likely caused because most community-care workers who travel from home to home are not unionized, while many in long-term care facilities are.
Another personal support worker, Sofia Ali, said she sometimes had only 15 minutes to complete numerous tasks, including washing or brushing teeth with a client before having to travel to another. She said if she was late, or did not visit all of the day’s clients, she would be docked pay.
“I don’t want to (quit my job) because I’m attached to the clients I see every day,” Burke said.
Service Employees International Union spokesperson Eoin Callan told those assembled that another threat to care, and to the workers, was the competitive bidding process, where regions offered the contracts to serve clients needing care while still living in their homes to “the lowest bidder.”
When the company contracted to provide care in the region changed, all front line workers would be fired. He said the process was extremely disruptive, especially to people who had developed strong relationships with their caregivers.
He said a DeGroote School of Business study has shown that when the contract for home care changed hands in Hamilton in 2007, nearly two thirds of the front line workers who were laid off left the profession entirely, “because of the upheaval that it causes.”
“We’re back in that moment again where (the Ministry of Health) is contemplating whether or not to resume competitive bidding,” Callan said.
He said a bid for services could begin in Waterloo by Sept. 30.
“We are not lifting the moratorium on competitive bidding,” Matthews said.
Several people in attendance said the town hall was originally supposed to include NDP candidate Catherine Fife and PC candidate Tracey Weiler. Organizers from the Quality Care Alliance and the Service Employees International Union denied this.
Spokespersons for both Fife and Weiler said that they had been advised the event had been cancelled.
“I wanted to hear from all of the candidates,” personal support worker Audri Melton said.
From Eleanor Grant
To Chris Herhalt, Record reporter
Thanks for your fine article on the cheap way our seniors and their
caregivers are being treated, and how health minister Deb Matthews was
given an earful by front-line workers at a town hall on Thurs night. It
does deserve to be an election issue.
But something is very fishy about the way this event was publicized.
Three different versions of the poster exist.
Last Sunday friends of mine were having a coffee at Tim Horton’s on
Belmont. Some volunteers with the SEIU union from Toronto came in and gave
people a poster about the town hall event. The poster stated it was a free
public forum featuring all candidates, and named Eric Davis, Catherine
Fife, and Tracy Weiler.
My friend later looked for a copy of the poster on-line so he could invite
more people. He found the poster, but now it said, “a free public *forum*with all the candidates”, without their names:
Meanwhile yet another version appeared in Wed’s Waterloo Chronicle saying
“a free public forum” and not mentioning candidates at all.
Were the other parties invited and then disinvited by means of a false
phone call saying the event was cancelled – as NDP and Tory supporters at the meeting claimed, according to your article?
Or were they perhaps never invited in the first place, so that people who
came to hear the candidates would get a photo op with Deb Matthews
Either way, it smells very off.
We can supply you with the paper poster and the web page which definitely
stated it was a forum with all the candidates. How did it become a packed
Liberal event instead?
I trust you’ll find this worth looking into!
I suspect the same thing. Eoin Callan and the woman from the Quality Care Alliance emphatically denied that was the case. Also, once I asked the Liberals about the staging of the event, they got really nervous and called me several times to offer excuses.
My guess is the Minister of Health said she’d only participate if she could be promised she would not run into Catherine Fife or Tracey Weiler.
As you know from the ORNGE hearings and the eHealth debacle before that, Matthews is under quite a lot of pressure to resign or be demoted from cabinet.
It’s not fair to you, the attendee, for things like that to happen. You deserve to hear from everyone. Flip me the link to the oldest advertisement about the event, it will give me something to go on.
(Marty followed up with him about the poster.)
From Eleanor Grant
to UW student newspaper, the Imprint:
UW students might be interested to know that a candidate in last week’s by-election was stopped by campus security from giving out her campaign leaflets at the Student Life Centre.
Candidate Elizabeth Rowley of the Communist Party was leafleting at the entrance to the SLC on Tues Sept 4, when campus security ordered her to stop. She refused, insisting she had a right to meet with electors and give out information. Security blocked her for an hour while they checked with Elections Ontario.
EO’s policy, it was discovered, is that a university campus is private property and the Administration is under no legal obligation to allow candidates on campus.
Even though Ontario is under the same Elections Act that governs federal elections, Ontario’s interpretation of the Act is much more narrow. Elections Canada allows canvassing in malls and on campuses, but Elections Ontario leaves it up to the property owner to give or withhold permission to canvass.
This should be of concern to students! It’s a basic democratic right to be allowed to hear from candidates during an election. The University should not act as a gate-keeper, deciding which candidates students may hear.
It also concerns me as a community member, that Elections Ontario does not consider itself bound by the same principles as Elections Canada, even though they are under the same Act. There’s something here that needs looking into.
Meanwhile I hope UW students will let their Administration know loud and clear that in future elections they do not want the Kampus Kops keeping candidates away.
B Math 79
(This letter was printed in the Sept 21 Imprint.)
Sept. 6 Byelection Date Chosen by Liberals to Minimize Voter Turnout? ”
Voters suppressed In byelections?
by: Chris Vander Doelen
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Did Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty call two crucial by-elections during back-to-school week to deliberately suppress voter turnout?
There’s been a lot of talk about vote suppression over the past year, most of it alleged by federal opposition parties. But any sitting government can do it, if it’s desperate enough to cling to power.
Democracy Watch, Canada’s self-appointed electoral watchdog, thinks reducing voter participation has to be at least one of the reasons McGuinty called two byelections on a day that is guaranteed to produce a low voter turnout.
But none of the likely reasons for holding by-elections on Sept. 6 are good ones, says Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator of the non-profit, non-partisan organization.
With tens of thousands of students moving back to campus in the university-town riding of Kitchener-Waterloo that week, many won’t know how to prove their new addresses yet to the local returning officer in a strange riding.
But in both byelection ridings, K-W and Vaughan, north of Toronto, families will be in turmoil as kids return to school and summer holidays finally end. Who’s going to be paying attention to the final important days of an election campaign?
“When choosing a byelection date, typically, politicians always pick a time that’s politically advantageous to them,” Sommers said from Ottawa on Wednesday.
For McGuinty, that probably means avoiding renewed scrutiny in the legislature after a summer of gaffes and damning revelations about the profligacy of his Liberal regime.
The biggest reason McGuinty called byelections for Thursday, Sept. 6, Sommers believes, is probably the timing of his Liberal government’s legislation forcing teachers back into the classroom that week.
Two days after the new school year begins, McGuinty wants to have proven how tough he can be with teachers’ unions — after caving into them for seven years straight, which he hopes voters suddenly forget.
But the government had to know the Sept. 6 date itself will certainly cut potential voter turnout, Sommers says. Any election which coincides with a holiday or moving week always has low turnouts.
Governments know this.
McGuinty’s byelection dates “ensure(s) many voters are . . . essentially prevented from voting,” Sommers says. Which is why Democracy Watch is calling again this week for a ban on such election dates: “They should be prohibited.”
McGuinty had the option of delaying the K-W by-election until as late as November.
Are the Liberals wily enough or desperate enough to time byelections to take advantage of low voter turnout to regain majority government? Judging by the recent record of the McGuinty government — which includes cancelled power plants and seemingly engineering the two byelections themselves — one could only conclude yes.
The Progressive Conservatives held Kitchener-Waterloo with MPP Elizabeth Witmer until she retired in early summer to take a lucrative provincial appointment — proffered by none other than McGuinty himself.
In the other riding, sitting Liberal MPP Greg Sorbara says he quit to run the next election campaign for the party. Which is rather odd. The smell of both deals could conceivably depress public trust in the electoral process worse than it has been.
Low voter turnout worries nearly everybody these days — except voters themselves, of course.
Academics claim low turnout reduces the political legitimacy of government. This grows more likely as voters become outnumbered by non-voters.
Voter turnout in Ontario was 62.9 per cent 1995, but fell to 56.9 per cent in 2003, and only 48.2 per cent during the last election of 2011.
Why is turnout so bad these days? “People are disengaging from politics because they don’t feel politicians represent them and they don’t see their own faces in the legislature,” Sommers says
“People don’t really trust in politics anymore. A lot of people feel one vote doesn’t make a difference.
And they think that regardless of who they vote for, they’re going to get the same thing.”
The “same thing,” Sommers says, means “dishonest, secretive, unethical, unrepresentative and wasteful government.” Couldn’t have described it better myself.
Democracy Watch has a few suggestions it believes would reduce the lying and raise public trust levels.
The changes might even cure “the clear crisis of record low voter turnout” that is gripping all the provinces, Sommers says.
In addition to the no-holidays, no moving-week votes, Ontario should have a fixed election date in late October or early November, which would maximize voter attention. Ontario’s current fixed date (when there isn’t a minority government) is in early October.
Elections Ontario should also be telling voters about their right to decline their ballot — a fact which remains a mystery to most voters. The agency should also be forced to disclose how many ballots are declined in each election — something that currently remains hidden, presumably to avoid encouraging more of the same.
Their suggestions should be tried, before the crisis becomes so bad that even worse cures are demanded, such as internet voting or mandatory voting.
Both of those “cures,” Democracy Watch warns, “will likely have serious negative effects.” They’re right; let’s try some of the cures with fewer side effects first. And soon.