Elections Canada hobbled in tussle with tweeters

Elections Canada is licking its wounds after social media users on Monday night flouted a decades-old law banning the transmission of election results before all polls close, wrote the Toronto Star May 4.

The fact that many of Canada’s elections laws are complaint-driven – even if Elections Canada is aware of transgressions – defeats the purpose of the legislation, says Robert MacDermid, a York University political science professor and campaign finance expert [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

“I don’t think the legislation ever contemplated pursuing people who initially might have made a phone call or tweeted a message to a friend,” he said. “The idea was to pursue organized attempts to flout the law.”

MacDermid says he hopes someone complains to force Elections Canada to act. He says studies have shown that early election results in the eastern United States can impact voter turnout on the West Coast. “Generally speaking, the turnout is lower on the West Coast because in a landslide situation, Americans don’t bother to turn out,” he said.

Unlike their Canadian counterparts, US broadcasters are allowed to report East Coast results as soon as the votes are tallied.

Tories penetrate last Grit defences

An impressive federal Conservative onslaught penetrated the last Liberal defences in Fortress Toronto – conquering eight Grit seats in the city that’s repeatedly rebuffed Tory advances, wrote The Canadian Press May 3.

“If anybody gave them a majority, it was Ontario,” said Robert Drummond, a political science professor at Toronto’s York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

Vote-splitting with the NDP helped to hasten the Liberals’ demise in the province, but it appears that many Grit supporters either voted Tory or stayed home, he added.

As a provincial vote approaches in the fall, the effects of yesterday’s election likely will be felt for months to come.

With the NDP jumping into second place federally and the Conservatives secure in their majority, Ontario’s three major parties may be forced to re-calibrate their own campaign strategies heading into the Oct. 6 election.

But experts are split on how the federal results could affect Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s re-election chances – or whether it will have any effect at all.

“It would have to make McGuinty a bit nervous,” said Drummond. “I think he’s already finding some difficulty in terms of popular public opinion around hydro rates and other sorts of issues…there’s still going to be those kinds of things around.”

The Liberals’ rough road ahead

[Liberal leader Michael] Ignatieff’s resignation won’t make matters much better, says Professor Daniel Cohn, director of York University’s School of Public Policy & Administration [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], wrote the National Post May 4, in a story about the party’s future. He believes the party is out of touch with what Canadians want. The new financial burden of being third may force the party to be back in synch with the voters.

“They’ve got to find out why 10 years ago, twice as many Canadians were listening,” says Cohn. “They now have a very short time period within which they are required to pull the leadership convention and select a new leader. Doing that before they untangle why they did so badly might not allow them to select the best possible person.”

Is it shadow cabinet for incumbents?

Local NDP MPs Brian Masse and Joe Comartin are likely to play increasingly prominent roles on Parliament Hill now that their party has formed the official Opposition, political analysts said Tuesday, wrote The Windsor Star May 4.

Comartin is the fourth most senior NDP MP, while Masse is the fifth.

"They’ll look like a credible alternative to the government," said Robert Drummond, a York University political science professor. "Instead of critic, you become the shadow minister. They’ll look like a credible alternative rather than somewhere to park votes."

Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh) and Masse (Windsor West) said House leadership positions are decided by NDP Leader Jack Layton.

How the Afghan mission influenced the election

While foreign policy was rarely mentioned or discussed during the election campaign, a bold new post-vote thesis is emerging, one in which Liberal support for the unpopular Canadian mission in Afghanistan pushed many voters – particularly those in Quebec – into the arms of the NDP, wrote Canadian foreign policy magazine Embassy May 4.

Craig Scott, director of the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security at York University, said that while he believes no policy, either foreign or domestic, played an important role in the election, issues like Afghanistan became a "soft echo" in the background, barely heard over the din of the campaign daily grind, but slowly building up in certain voters’ minds.

And if Afghanistan and foreign policy were major factors in the NDP coming up big, it may be well-placed to carry that success forward, Scott says. For example, the party boycotted the parliamentary committee examining documents related to the handling of Afghan detainees over fears the committee’s establishment was a delaying tactic. That decision may turn out to be prescient in that it helped the NDP avoid the stain of acquiescence on the Afghanistan file.

"It’s just one brick in the wall in thinking the NDP are a little different from everybody else," Scott says.

On-air election analysis

  • Alexandre Brassard, political scientist at York’s Glendon College, spoke about the federal election results, on CBC Radio Canada May 3.
  • Marcel Martel, Avie Bennett Historica-Dominion Institute Chair in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about why the NDP swept Quebec in the federal election and the potential pitfalls for leader Jack Layton, on CTV News May 3.

Ford campaign overspent by $70,000, complaint says

Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign spent almost $70,000 more than the $1.305-million expense limit established by municipal election rules, according to allegations contained in a new request for a compliance audit, to be filed Wednesday with the city clerk’s office, wrote The Globe and Mail May 4.

The campaign “improperly categorized direct mailing and telephone canvassing expenses as those related to ‘holding a fundraising function’ and thus wrongly excluded these expenses from their overall fundraising limit,” alleges the 17-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail. “Similarly, the campaign improperly excluded ‘fundraising commissions’ from the fundraising limit.”

According to long-standing provincial elections rules, costs associated with fundraising events can be excluded from spending caps for municipal candidates. “The act keeps on saying ‘fundraising function’”, said York University political scientist Robert MacDermid [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] who reviewed the submission. “A phone call to raise money is not a function, in my view.” He conceded, however, that the legislation is “vague.”

A little light reading: Is Eating People Wrong?

Books on law needn’t be boring, wrote The Toronto Sun May 4. [This one] comes with the odd title Is Eating People Wrong? And just to prove law professors can write for general audiences, it’s written by Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Allan Hutchinson.

Written in an entertaining style, Hutchinson bemoans the fact that lawyers "seem intent on making the law as inaccessible and obtuse as it can be."

Hutchinson’s book focuses on judge-made law and how laws develop.

The book explains how a snail found in a bottle of ginger beer led to the application of negligence laws to manufacturers and how a restaurateur and Jehovah’s Witness was able to successfully take on the Premier of Quebec. It covers the origins of the famous Miranda warning read to suspects in TV crime shows, as well as the United States Supreme Court handling of segregation laws.

Hutchinson’s book will surprise readers by displaying the power judges have to make law. While somewhat scary, it’s exhilarating to observe how law really develops over time.

TJFF screens movies by Israeli film school grads

Toronto-area students hope that a three-day spotlight on Israeli films that are included in this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival (TJFF) will expose Canadian audiences to different aspects of Israeli culture, wrote The Canadian Jewish News May 5.

Ron Tal [BASc ’08], a York University computer science graduate student, is one of 11 Jewish and non-Jewish students who teamed up with Hillel to present a spotlight on TJFF contributors who came out of Israeli film schools.

The committee has organized screenings of 10 Israeli films from May 10 to 12 that are directed by students and alumni of Israeli film schools, including the Sam Speigel Film School, Sapir College and Tel Aviv University.

Tal said the films were selected by the committee from a pool of more than 200 by directors who hail from Israeli film schools.

“I hope people will be exposed to another perspective of Israeli society – what life in Israel is like, what is on the minds of Israelis and hopefully they’ll just have a good time and be open to seeing new things and be more aware that there are good things coming out of Israel,” said Tal, who grew up in Israel. “Most of the publicity that the country gets is due to political reasons, so it’s always nice to get unrelated cultural reasons to look at Israel a little differently.”

Sarnia Lawyer was an Osgoode grad

Jon Philip Burley [LLB ’72] passed away suddenly on Sunday, at his home, at the age of 66, wrote The Sarnia Observer May 4.

Jonny was born and raised in Sarnia and made a name for himself early in life as a star athlete and student. He became a lawyer after graduating with honours from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. Jon was handsome and charismatic, and while he never did settle down and marry, he did travel the world and lived with great passion.

He was often misunderstood by others, even his own family, partly because of his genius and partly because of a futile struggle with manic depression. In his last years of life, Jon revealed to those lucky few people who loved him what a truly wonderful and generous person he really was.