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Doing democracy in Ontario: Voter suppression rears its head again

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How low has our political culture sunk? The Ontario election paints a dismal picture.

First, news that Tim Hudak seems to have borrowed a leaf from the federal Conservative playbook: his team has been engaging in a little voter suppression of its own. Identified Liberal voters in at least two battleground ridings have been directed to the wrong polling places. Innocent mistake? Then why is Hudak lying about it?

And does this suggest innocence to you?

CBC News contacted a woman named Saxon Harding who lives in [Ottawa West-Nepean]. She said, "Well, I let the party send that out," and then would not answer further questions...."It appears from Canada Post's stamp that both the London North Centre letters and the Ottawa West-Nepean letter were routed through the same Toronto Canada Post centre," a letter from the [Liberal] party's lawyers says.

"The eerie coincidence of the text, the mailing from Toronto, and all of them having the wrong poll designated, they are eerie coincidences," said Bob Chiarelli, the Liberal candidate in Ottawa West-Nepean. "The voters deserve to know if this strategy is condoned by Tim Hudak's campaign."

A more sophisticated vote suppression technique, wherein voters effectively suppress themselves, has been an orchestrated "decline your ballot (none of the above)" campaign, which turns out to be the work of a seasoned Conservative operative.

Then we have the Globe and Mail editorial endorsement of Hudak. Here's editor-in-chief David Walmsley:

Q.How does the Globe and Mail go about giving an endorsement?

Walmsley: "It's a significant process that's quite sophisticated and it goes on really from before election begins, there's a discussion among the board…we see the platforms, we study them, we convene a series of meetings…we keep an open mind throughout the process…we had meetings with each of the leaders, and out of that we came to a conclusion and decided that Tim Hudak was the person to endorse in this occasion, the Conservatives."

It turns out that the use of the word "we" is deceptive -- in fact, it's not going too far to call it a barefaced lie. The Globe's editorial board actually wanted to endorse Kathleen Wynne. But that collective decision was overruled by Walmsley, who ordered that the editorial be re-written to support Hudak.

No one is arguing that the editor-in-chief doesn't have the right to countermand his editorial board. But what he does not have the right to do is to present a re-written editorial endorsement as his editorial board's position. That's grossly unethical.

What was perhaps even more disheartening was the reaction of various pundits to the news. "Nothing to see here, move along" pretty well sums it up. The Globe endorsement was defended on the basis that an editor-in-chief (and/or publisher) has the right to endorse anyone he or she wants. But that's not the issue, and no one has been arguing the contrary. Falsely presenting one person's opinion as an editorial consensus is the issue. Walmsley has been caught with his pants down, and all those lullaby-singing columnists can do is to claim that he can wear his trousers any way he pleases.

To re-cap: a party tries to send opposing voters down a blind alley, the same party covertly attempts a "decline your ballot" strategy to give itself an electoral edge, and the editor-in-chief of a major newspaper essentially lies to the public (and is defended for doing so). Something has gone badly awry with the way we do politics. Democracy is fragile, requiring the people themselves to make it operational. When they are deliberately misled by party and press alike, seemingly with impunity, we're heading down a nasty slippery slope.

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