• Breaking Election Law: Easy as Pie

    By Kira Wakeam

    The RSU’s recent on-campus voting initiative may have violated elections law by rewarding voters with a sweet treat.

    “Anytime that something tangible is offered in exchange for a vote of any kind, there is the possibility has violated Section 481.1 of the elections act,” says Dugald Maudsley, a spokesperson for Elections Canada.

    Section 481.1 of the Canada Elections Act states that “every person is guilty of an offence who, during an election period, directly or indirectly offers a bribe to influence an elector to vote or refrain from voting or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate.” For the most serious violations, an offender could be fined up to $50,000, receive a sentence of up to five years, or both. Even for less serious violations, the maximum penalties are a $20,000 fine, one year in jail, or both.

    According to Maudsley, the pie giveaway is a clear violation of the act but any complaints about the polling station have to be filed with the Commissioner of Canada Elections.  

    “The decision of whether or not this violates the act is entirely up to the commissioner,” says Maudsley.

    The Ryerson Students’ Union handed out pie to those who voted at the advance polls Oct. 5-8. The polling station was one of several set up on Canadian campuses as part of an agreement between student unions and Elections Canada, according to an RSU spokesman.

    The RSU’s vice-president of education, Cormac McGee, says that when he and other members of the student union came up with the idea as a way to encourage students to vote, people mentioned that it might be against the law. But he said he dismissed that concern because he “felt it meant more towards getting people out to vote in general rather than voting for a certain person.”

    McGee says neither he nor anyone else at the RSU was warned that the pie giveaway might be breaking election law.

    “The Elections Canada person who was running the station said he loved the idea,” McGee says.

    “I never got any negative feedback or warnings that it could be an issue,” he says. “They knew what was going on and they never said anything.”

    And an elections expert from the University of Manitoba says that even if it did constitute an offence, it would be too minor to lead to legal action.

    “They are trying it make a bit more fun around the act of voting,” says Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the university and a member of the Elections Canada Advisory Board.

    In an interview with The Ryersonian, Thomas said it could be argued that the pie-incentive encouraged voters to come out, after recent changes to voting laws in Canada might have discouraged them. “Because of the changes, some students might have been hard-pressed to find a place where they could vote outside their (home) riding,” he says.  

    The new rules to which Thomas referred are part of The Fair Elections Act, which came into law in June 2014. One of the most criticized changes in the law was the elimination of “vouching.” That allowed someone who didn’t have proper identification to vote, so long as another elector from the same polling area vouched for his or her identity. The new law also prohibited the use of voter information cards as valid identification.

    “Presumably this (the pie give-away) was meant to counter some new discouragement from the new election rules,” said Thomas. “I don’t think you need to worry about Elections Canada police coming to round up students and organizers for this violation.”

    Duff Conacher is a co-founder of Democracy Watch and a professor at the University of Ottawa. He says turning a blind eye to these violations can be a slippery slope.

    “They bribed people using a piece of pie,” he said. “It may seem nominal, but to someone who is really hungry, a piece of pie is not a nominal incentive.”

    “You don’t want to open that door because if you open the door to something small, you open the door to everything and you can’t do that if you want to have a free and fair election.”

    Conacher says the law is drafted broadly in order to avoid loopholes at all levels and that an investigation of the polling station could be opened if a complaint is made.

    Whether or they are taken to task for the violation, one thing is clear – the pie giveaway was a big success. According to McGee, the advance poll at the student centre saw more than 1,400 voters.

    “By the middle of the week we had a higher turnout than all the other Toronto universities, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t end the week that way,” McGee says of the poll’s high turnout numbers. “The guy from Elections Canada told me he thought it was because of the pie.”

  • Four things we aren’t talking about this election and why

    By Arthur White

    In this long election campaign, debate has rapidly shifted from one issue to the next. First we had the economy, deficits and recession. Then, a moving photo of a drowned boy turned the discussion to whether Canada is doing enough to help Syrian refugees. Finally, in the surreal waning weeks before election day, it was all about the niqab.

    But theres a whole range of important issues that politicians have chosen to ignore  or that the media has opted to keep off the screens. We spoke to Ryerson professor Neil Thomlinson from the department of politics and public administration to figure out why.


    Assisted suicide

    Whoever takes office after Monday will have a few short months to decide what to do about a tricky moral issue thats been making news since the early 90s, when Sue Rodriguez first petitioned the courts for the right to assisted suicide. In aunanimous ruling this February, the Supreme Court gave the government a year to come up with new legislation that gives patients in grievous, unending pain the right to access a doctor to help them take their own lives. That deadline is set to expire this February, and were no closer to a solution. 

    Strangely, this seemingly pressing, divisive, time-sensitive issue hasnt come up once in any of the five debates. It doesnt even appear in the platforms of any of the three main national parties.

    Thomlinson says that assisted suicide is todays homosexuality, an issue politicians dont want to touch because its too divisive and reveals fissures in party membership. The Liberals and the Conservatives, in particular, have libertarian and social conservative wings that dont see eye-to-eye on moral issues.

    The parties all hope the courts are going to come and sort it out for them and theyre not going to have to worry about it, he said.

    The same basic argument goes for prostitution law, another issue where the courts have forced the governments hand. At least on the campaign trail, the NDP and the Liberals have shied away from challenging a new Conservative law that makes buying sex illegal. But Harper has recently tried to use prostitution as a wedge issue, accusing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau of wanting to legalize brothels. Thomlinson is near certain that the Conservatives made the same calculations for assisted suicide, but decided it was too risky.

    The tea leaves have been read, and they concluded they had more to lose than to gain, he said.

    Health Care

    Going back decades, almost every election has been fought with healthcare front and centre. When they first came to power in 2006, the Conservatives promised to shorten hospital wait times as one of their five top priorities. Poll after poll shows that the quality of our health system remains near the top of Canadians’ priority list.

    This election has been different. Party platforms mention things like homecare and support for people with disabilities. The NDP promised to fund a few thousand new doctors and nurses. But theres been no massive funding commitments or attempts to reopen the old public versus private debate.

    Healthcare is in provincial jurisdiction, but the federal government contributes billions in transfers and oversees the Canada Health Act. Thomlinson says that the real obstacle is Liberal and NDP vulnerability. He calls the healthcare debate a “politically charged minefield” for both parties.

    “It was the Liberals under Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien who gutted the system,” he explained, “so even though theyre saying theyre going to fix it, they don’t want to talk about their own past.

    The NDP, usually strong on healthcare, is also trying to overcome public fears that the party is fiscally irresponsible by promising to maintain a balanced budget. But, according to Thomlinson, that commitment makes it impossible to fund the big spending increases that would be necessary to fix the system, at least without significant tax hikes.

    Much of the blame for maintaining the veil of silence falls on reporters, said Thomlinson, who criticizes the the media for always lunging at the newest issue of the day, like the niqab, rather than providing sustained analysis and coverage of longstanding social problems.

    The media always have attention deficit disorder, he says, Its hard to write new and fresh stuff about the same issue day after day after day; It’s a whole lot easier when a new issue emerges


    First Nations

    This year was a key point in Canadas relationship with First Nations. While many had heard of the travesty that was the Indian Residential School System, the summary report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought renewed attention to the harm suffered by people once stripped from their families and shut off from their own culture. The media began paying attention to the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women. All the while, many First Nations communities continue to live in dilapidated communities, without drinkable water or proper sanitation.

    While the party platforms all have sections on First Nations, the word “aboriginal,” “indigenous” and First Nations” were mentioned a grant total of ten times in the three English language debates, almost entirely on the subject of pipeline politics and Bill C-51. First Nations issues didnt merit a single question from any of the debate moderators. 

    For Thomlinson, the reason is simple:

    The sad answer for that is that there are too many Canadians who dont give a fuck about First Nations issues. You could go further than that and say that there are some Canadians who are hostile to First Nations issues.

    That problem is compounded by the very low voter turnout among aboriginals, a challenge some community leaders are trying to address this election.

    Until now many First Nations people have not voted, Tomlinson said. So there isn’t a whole lot to be gained by putting your neck out there and fervently supporting First Nations demands and there potentially can be a lot to lose.


    Arms deals

    Bloc Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe can be something of a wildcard in federal election campaigns, and this year he hasnt failed to disappoint. In both French language debates, Duceppe brought up what should be a highly controversial issue: a $15 billion deal to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one of the worst human rights offenders on the globe.

    None of the other party leaders, with the exception of Elizabeth May, bothered to respond with more than a few words. The issue didnt come up at all in the English language debates. Mulcair tried to highlight how an NDP government would ensure that human rights were studied before such deals were made, but neither he nor Trudeau have made any firm commitments on what to do about the Saudis.

    Why have the Liberals and the NDP chosen to ignore a topic that could help undermine the Harper’s claim, oft repeated, that he pursues a principled foreign policy?

    One part of the answer is the geopolitical importance of Saudi Arabia, a major oil supplier and longstanding U.S. ally.

    But the bigger factor is probably domestic politics. The vehicles are set to be built around London, Ont., a key battleground city where both of the major opposition parties have a good chance of picking up seats.

    Thomlinson says that domestic policy will always trump foreign policy, especially when jobs are at stake.

  • Catch our live election broadcast on October 19th

    Join us on Oct. 19 for live coverage of the 42nd Canadian federal election. We’ll be broadcasting from The Ryersonian newsroom with running coverage of the latest results, joined by a panel of experts and party pundits to help you understand what they might mean, and who might form Canada’s next government. Tune in from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. right here on the ELXN ZONE main page.

    Check out this video of what to expect:

  • The Issues: our interactive guide to where the parties stand

    By Arthur White and Alicja Grzadkowska

    Now that all four national parties have released their full platforms, we combed through the details to bring you an overview of where the parties stand on eight issues that matter for young voters.

    Just hover over one of the issues and see a side-by-side comparison of the most important promises each party has made.

  • Long lines and two-hour waits for advance voting on campus

    By Kira Wakeam and Leah Lalich

    High voter turnout at advance polls in the Student Campus Centre caused long lines and wait times as long as two hours.

    Polls opened Monday, when 241 people showed up in one day.

    Throughout the week many students lined up for hours to take the chance to vote at the advanced poll, which closed Thursday at 6 p.m.

    “[Wednesday] we were told that our station has the highest voter station turnout out of all the Toronto universities” said Cormac McGee, RSU vice president education. “They each have two, three polls, we only have one and we are killing them in turnout.”

    According to McGee, Elections Canada staff said some of the enthusiasm might have been thanks to the free pie doled out for students voting at the station.

    The Ryerson Students’ Union and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) collaborated with Elections Canada and the Canadian Federation of Students to create the first ever voting station on campus.


  • Sluts Against Harper bribes voters with nude pics

    By Arthur White

    An Instagram account is sending out nude photos to anyone who can prove they voted, preferably against Stephen Harper.

    Votes4nudes, alternatively titled Sluts Against Harper, has picked up more than 8,000 followers in just two days of operation. According to an associated Tumblr site, voters need to send in a photo of themselves by a polling station to show they made it out.

    The site offers “bonus points” for photos that feature slogans like “#FUCKHARPER.”

    In return, voters will receive scandalous photos of men or women, according to preference. The sample photos posted on the account so far are censored, with winky faces or cut outs of Stephen Harper’s head blocking out female nipples and all genitals, but still overtly sexual.

    “Harper kills my vibe,” says one user, who used middle finger emojis to block out her nipples.

    “2 cute 2 vote 4 Harper,” says another.

  • Liberals plan to increase student grant funding by 50 percent

    By Adena Ali

    On Monday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced a plan that he says would make post-secondary education more affordable.

    Trudeau promised to boost Canada Student Grants for full-time students by 50 per cent to $3,000 a year, $1,800 for part-time students, and make it easier for more students from “middle-class families” to qualify for Canada Student Grants.

    He unveiled the last few points of the Liberal party’s platform in an 88-page plan to a cheering crowd of students at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

    Trudeau described the importance of students to the Canadian economy.

    “We have a plan to provide direct support to students from low- and middle-income families, so that they can pay for a good education and keep their debt at a manageable level,” he said.

    He also emphasized the struggle for middle-class families trying to save for their children’s education, taking aim at the Conservatives and leader Stephen Harper.

    “The federal government spends billions every year on non-refundable tax credits that don’t offer direct help for students when they need it,” Trudeau said.

    He added that a Liberal government would make the student loan repayment process more flexible by allowing students to wait to start repaying until they earn at least $25,000 per year.

    The Liberal party also wants to invest $50 million in additional annual funding to the Post-Secondary Student Support program (PSSSP) to help indigenous students get a post-secondary education.

  • RSU doles out pie to early voters

    By Arthur White

    Students can vote early for candidates in their home ridings this week in the Student Campus Centre (SCC), and enjoy a slice of pie as a reward.

    Elections Canada advance polling stations will be set up on the second floor of the SCC from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until Oct. 8. Students over 18 who show valid identification and proof of address can vote by special ballot. All they need to do is write in the name of their favoured candidate in their riding of primary residence. Elections Canada staff are on hand to help.

    The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson collaborated with Elections Canada to set up the project, said RSU vice-president education Cormac McGee.

    “It is part of a pilot project (Elections Canada) is doing with universities across Canada — 39 schools in total, I believe,” he said. “RSU is solely responsible for the pie. We’ve got everything — Apple, Raspberry, Strawberry and of course Pumpkin. We’re also working to get gluten free/vegan pie for people.”

    Mariam Nouser, vice-president student life at the Ryerson Engineering Student Society, was busy watching over those pies. She told The Ryersonian that it’s a way to say “congrats” to students who turn up to vote.

    “I myself was one of the first people voting,” she said. “It’s my first time voting in a federal election.”

    Nouser said she’s met people from all over the country who’ve stopped by for a ballot and a slice.

    “We had a couple students from out of province,” she said. “I was talking to a girl from Montreal and a guy from Winnipeg. It made their lives so much easier to be able to vote at school.”

    Nicole Bunt, an information officer with Elections Canada, said 241 students turned up to vote on Monday. She said she’s expecting many more.

  • Ryerson plans to help students navigate Fair Elections Act

    By Peter Goffin

    With the 2015 federal election just over a month away, Canadians face a new set of voter identification rules that some critics say may discourage university students from going to the polls.

    Among other voting regulation changes, the Fair Elections Act has banned two means of voting for people who do not have a photo ID with their name and current address on it. The Voter Information Card, mailed to all registered voters, will no longer be accepted at the polls as sufficient proof of where a person lives.

    And the vouching system (under which a voter with sufficient ID guarantees the eligibility of another voter) has been replaced by a more intricate process, under which a voter without ID must swear an oath and show two pieces of identification with their name on it, while also having another voter from their area testify.

    When Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre introduced the Fair Elections Act in February 2014, the government said these new restrictions on ID were in response to “mass irregularities in the use of vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on Voter Information Cards.” But critics have said the new rules will only make it harder for many Canadians — including post-secondary students—to vote.

    Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand told a parliamentary committee in 2014 that the Fair Elections Act would, in his opinion, make it harder for young people, as well as First Nations and seniors, to vote, since these groups are most likely not to have government-issued ID or official documents with their names and addresses.

    “I do not believe that if we eliminate vouching and the VIC as proof of address we will have in any way improved the integrity of the voting process,” Mayrand said. “However, we will certainly have taken away the ability of many qualified electors to vote.”

    At time of publication, Poilievre had not responded to The Ryersonian’s email requests for comment. However, in a 2014 opinion piece for the Globe and Mail, the minister wrote that, “Canadians instinctively understand that these changes are reasonable and fair. That is why they have not shared the critics’ hysteria.”

    Ryerson University is taking steps to ensure on-campus students can vote on Oct. 19.

    Ian Crookshank, Ryerson’s director of housing and residence life, said the university will be using one of two methods to allow students living on campus to prove their current address at the polls.

    For last year’s municipal election, Ryerson sent an official proof-of-address letter to each on-campus student to show at the polls.

    The other option, which Ryerson has also used in previous elections, is to provide the on-campus polling stations with complete lists of all eligible students who live in Ryerson residences.

    Crookshank said the university is in talks with Elections Canada and will know later this week which method will be used.

    But students living off-campus need a piece of photo ID to prove their identity, and, additionally, a document that indicates their current address, such as a lease or a hydro bill.

    That could be a problem, said Craig Scott, NDP critic for Democratic and Parliamentary Reform. So few university and college students have documents readily at hand with their current addresses on them, he told The Ryersonian. Bills for a student’s housing may only go to one roommate, and all forms of ID are likely to show the address of a student’s parents’ house, not their school-year home.

    While students can always go back home to cast their ballot, Scott said, he believes the added step will make it much less likely they will vote.

    “We know that when university students have to go out of their way in the middle of term … the chances that they’re actually going to line everything up and vote are much lower than if they could easily vote where they are going to university.”


    What you can use as ID at the polls:

    • One piece of government-issued ID with your name, photo and current address.
    • Two documents with your name on them, of which one has your current address. This could be a passport and a bill, a health card and a bank statement.
    • A full list of acceptable IDs is available at Elections Canada’s website.
  • Audience participation limited at Toronto Centre candidates debate

    By Kiah Berkeley

    Toronto Centre candidates participated in their first debate of the 2015 campaign Tuesday night, but some of the attendees at the forum were upset that they didn’t get to ask questions of their own.

    While Conservative candidate Julian Di Battista did not attend, Bill Morneau (Liberal), Linda McQuaig (NDP) and Colin Biggin (Green) spoke before residents in St. James Town, answering questions that dealt with the community’s top four concerns: immigration, housing, employment and poverty.

    Candidates answered four main questions created by event organizers, followed by several questions that residents submitted beforehand. Topics that residents asked questions about included the current refugee crisis, recognition of foreign credentials and family reunification.

    Amal Kanafani, who said she came to Canada as a refugee from Syria, was not happy she didn’t get a chance to speak.

    “They didn’t ask us any questions, they didn’t let us ask any questions,” she said after the debate.

    “For me, I have a lot of questions … they didn’t even let us talk.”

    Kanafani said that although she is highly educated, she can’t find employment in Canada. She volunteers “day and night” but is repeatedly told she doesn’t have enough experience for a job here.

    Candidates addressed the issue of employment and foreign credentials several times over the course of the 1.5-hour-long debate.

    Linda McQuaig emphasized that “foreign credentials are an enormous problem,” lamenting that “we bring the best and brightest, then when they get here, we don’t recognize their credentials.”

    Her party, the NDP, has pledged to recognize foreign professionals and to accelerate the recognition of foreign credentials and degrees.

    Bill Morneau said that Canada could be doing more to help Syrian refugees and that the Conservatives’ lack of action was unacceptable.

    When challenged by McQuaig, who said he hadn’t mentioned the foreign credential issue, Morneau labelled it as a critical issue and said the Liberals would collaborate with provinces to come up with solutions.

    For Kanafani, all that talk just didn’t cut it.

    “They say something nice but we hope they will do what they speak about,” she said.

    Diana Mavunduse, the community development co-ordinator for Dixon Hall Neighbourhood Services, helped organize the debate as part of an effort to get St. James Town residents involved in the upcoming election.

    While she was happy with the turnout, Mavunduse said that a lot of residents didn’t show up because they were working, many at precarious jobs. The number one issue for residents is employment, she said.

    When asked if it sounded like any of the candidates would help with unemployment and foreign credentials, Mavunduse said, “No, I didn’t hear that.

    “I still hear the same thing: ‘Oh, we will get you jobs, we will get you this,’ but what is a job?”

    Mavunduse explained that many foreign professionals believe a “job” means being able to work in their field in Canada, but instead they often end up working menial, low-paying jobs. Mavunduse said it bothers her that qualified professionals from other countries, often trained in the British system, must go back to school, but “when Canadians go to those countries, they’re experts (and) nobody questions their credentials.”

    But not everyone in attendance had a problem with the debate. Anish Alex, who works at the Yonge Street Mission, said the debate was great. He felt that candidates answered questions as best they could, given the two-minute limit on answers.

    “I think this is a wonderful opportunity for people to participate in the process of democracy,” Alex said.

    The debate had a fairly congenial atmosphere, in spite of the mournful organ music that crept in from an unseen part of the church. Morneau responded calmly to McQuaig’s frequent jabs, with Biggin cheerfully joking that the Green party’s role was “to mediate between these two.”

    Biggin acknowledged his underdog status and offered his fellow candidates luck.

    “It’s all too common to bash competitors,” he said.

    While each candidate criticized the Conservatives at different times, no one directly mentioned Di Battista’s absence.

    Di Battista did not respond to several requests from The Ryersonian for comment.