The robot invasion of Canadian democracy

– Lin Abdul Rahman, Opinion Editor

A series of rallies broke out across Canada this weekend to protest what has now been termed the “Robocall” scandal.

Elections Canada is scrambling to investigate over 31,000 complaints involving automated phone calls to voters during the 2011 federal elections. Voters were directed to the wrong polling stations or even to non-existent polling stations, as was the case in Guelph, Ontario.

One-time Reform Party leader Preston Manning made a strong case in the Globe and Mail that this scandal is symptomatic of the weakness in Canada’s voting system. The Conservative government alone should not be put under the crosshairs. However, considering the fact that an overwhelming majority of the misdirected voters were non-Conservative supporters, the Conservative party seems to be the most logical suspect.

The oversight of over 31,000 complaints has put an egregious blemish on the credibility of Elections Canada as an objective overseer. Its remiss and insufficient response to public concerns has had over 42,000 signatories on an online petition demanding a full public inquiry into the scandal.  More than 2,000 people joined the rally in Toronto on Sunday to demand an end what has now been boldly termed an “election fraud.”

Most worrying, though, are the serious doubts cast over the legitimacy of the current Conservative government. If the allegations are true, then it means that the current Conservative government did not win the election “fair and square;” it means that the current government lied and cheated – quite literally – its way into office. In fact, a re-election may be in order, one where the Conservative government stands a chance of losing.

Regardless of the outcome of Elections Canada’s investigation, this scandal marks a low point in Canadian politics. Even the most politically-ambivalent can no longer look down his or her noses American politics and claim the moral high ground. Now that the integrity of even our voting system is questionable, we’ve proven to be just like our neighbours down south.

Genevan philosopher and political thinker John-Jacques Rousseau stated that those living under democracies are in chains; they are only free when casting their vote. The “Robocall” scandal, however, illustrates how even that precious moment of freedom is now under threat. Voting is but one small part in the grand theatre of democracy and voters hold on that part with the hope that it will translate into a government of their choosing. But, as we can see, even that most sanctified institution of democracy is not immune to manipulation and exploitation.

Therefore, as citizens, it is not enough for us to simply cast our votes at election time; voting alone is not enough to grant us the license to dust our hands off and say, “I’ve done my job as a citizen of this country.” History tells us that democracy was fought for and won, one right at a time, from the death grips of rulers past. The democratic rights we enjoy today were not simply lavished upon our forefathers through the benevolence of their leaders. Protesters took to the streets, rallies were staged and, in some instances, blood was spilled. It is foolish to think that we can now sit back and watch the government “implement” democracy on our behalf. The “Robocall” scandal shows how the government occasionally fail in doing so.

If any lesson can be gleaned from this embarrassing fracas, it is that our job as citizens extends far beyond the moment of voting. If it is true that “Robocall” was the result of an “oversight” on the part of Elections Canada and the Conservative government, then it is our job to stay vigilant and ensure such “slip ups” never happen again. If it is that the “Robocall” scandal was, in fact, a malicious act of voter manipulation, then it is absolutely paramount that we all take part in the collective role of the government watchdog and ensure that no one messes with our votes, be it robots or politicians.

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