As someone who believes fundamentally in the democratic process, the robocall scandal enrages me.
I thank Bill Winegard for stepping out and calling it like he sees it.
Thursday, March, 08, 2012 – 10:10:36 AM
Winegard confident robo-call questions will be answered
By Jessica Lovell
The people responsible for misleading voters in Guelph in last May’s general election are bullies the likes of which Guelph has not seen, says Bill Winegard.
“I’ve never seen this happen before and certainly not in Guelph,” says the former Progressive Conservative MP, speaking of the robo-calls that went out to local voters directing them to incorrect polling stations.
The automated calls which claimed to be from Elections Canada have put Guelph at the centre of national news, as Elections Canada probes to find out who was really responsible.
Winegard has no doubt the investigation will be successful.“I think Elections Canada will indeed get to the bottom of this in the next few months,” he says.
Winegard witnessed the story as it unfolded on election night.
An old-guard Progressive Conservative, Winegard was not pleased with the result when the party merged with the Canadian Alliance Party in 2003. He publicly endorsed Liberal candidate and current MP Frank Valeriote in the May election, and he was in Valeriote’s office on election night.
He saw the calls coming in from Liberal supporters who had been told their polling locations had changed. “It was creating a bit of chaos in the office,” says Winegard.
He felt instinctively that Valeriote would win his seat, so he advised “the troops” in the office not to panic. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t upset by the situation.
“I was only concerned that somebody was diddling around,” he says. “That upset me in terms of the fairness of the process.”
But the fraudulent election-day phone calls were not the only thing that upset Winegard during the campaign. “There seemed to be some hard feelings and an atmosphere of a battle,” he says of the overall campaign. It’s not the way he remembers it being during his own campaign days in the ’80s. “You are in to win, but it’s never been dirty or personal,” he says.
What makes him feel better about the situation is his sense that the people behind the robo-calls will be found out.
When the culprits are found, they should be treated like the bullies that they are, says Winegard.
Bullying is a subject the 87-year-old addresses when he visits schools to read to kindergarten children. The people behind the robo-calls could learn from some of the stories he reads them, says Winegard.
“What they need is a lesson from little children,” he says with the tone of a scolding grandfather. But joking aside, the issue is “a very, very serious matter,” says Winegard. “The reality is that somebody has tried to subvert elections in Canada. That is very serious.”
He is not sure how far up the ladder the blame may be traced, but he believes the responsibility lies with more than one individual and the people responsible will be found and punished.
“The people who want to send them to jail may well be right,” says Winegard, acknowledging that jail time may ultimately be part of the punishment.
But to the elder statesman, sending the culprits to jail is too simple and he questions whether they will learn from the experience.
“I think they should have to face the public in some way,” he says.
He also believes there is an element of good that can come out of Guelph’s negative press.
“I always believe there is good out of bad,” says Winegard. In this case, he says, the good is that “this will convince some people of how important it is to vote.”