Liberal ridings targeted by Toronto-area Conservatives in the last election saw unexplained increases in their number of polling stations, records show. Five ridings saw dramatic gains in poll sites, including one neighbourhood in Ajax, Ont., where five different ballot stations were placed within metres of each other on the same street.
Documents obtained through Access to Information show hundreds of polls scattered through closely-contested ridings were far in excess of actual population growth, and often placed in private locations despite a federal law that requires balloting “wherever possible” occur in a public place.
Elections Canada refused comment when asked why it directed voters to evangelical churches, a lawn bowling club, country club, piano lounge, gated community clubhouse and Loblaw Superstore—all Toronto polls where Conservatives harvested thousands of votes last year.
“Maybe people used that situation to contort voting patterns—in other words, backdoor gerrymandering by affecting voting patterns,” said Derek Lee, a retired Liberal MP who previously analysed poll placements. “There is a potential for that to happen.”
In Ajax-Pickering, where Conservative MP Chris Alexander defeated Liberal incumbent Mark Holland by 3,228 votes, five different polls were located in a row of apartment and condo towers on a road called Falby Court, though balloting was available at a public school 200 metres up the street. Alexander won all five Falby Court polls by 452 votes.
More than 27 per cent of Falby Court district residents are immigrants, according to Census data. Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney had targeted “very ethnic” ridings in a Conservative Party fundraising letter issued two months before last spring’s campaign.
Elections Canada would not say who asked for the Falby Court ballot boxes. Returning officers in several ridings interviewed by The Hill Times acknowledged receiving requests for polls from unnamed party workers, but said no records of such requests were ever compiled.
In Bramalea-Gore-Malton, another Conservative gain, the local returning officer placed five polls in high-rise residences on Hanover Road in Brampton though a public school was located down the block. Conservatives won the Hanover Road polls with 449 votes.
The party’s margin of victory in the riding was 539 votes. Census data show 41 per cent of Hanover Road district residents are immigrants, with 38 per cent identified as “visible minorities,” mainly South Asian.
Derek Lee, who co-authored a 2010 Canadian Parliamentary Review essay on voting patterns, said poll locations should not “distort common-sense accessibility for normal voters, where you have to leave your house and go to a community building and vote.”
“I’ve been through seven elections and over the years the placement of polling stations seemed to become an issue where it didn’t used to be,” said Lee, who retired as Scarborough-Rouge River MP last year to return to private law practice.
In Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where Conservatives defeated Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff by 2,869 votes, six Election Day polls were placed at Trident Hall, a banquet room in the heart of the city’s Ukrainian-Canadian community.
Trident Hall is owned by the Ukrainian National Federation (UNF), and operates in the same building as the Ukrainian Credit Union Ltd. and New Pathway Ukrainian-language weekly. Conservatives lost just two of the six Trident polls.
“The banquet hall business supports our community purposes,” said Slawko Borys, president of the UNF Toronto chapter.
Borys said the UNF previously rented its hall to Conservative organizers, but added the Federation and its directors did not participate in the 2011 campaign. Records show the Ukrainian Credit Union made political donations of $1,850 to Conservatives and $1,500 to Liberals since 2004.
“We would not allow any party to put signs on the lawn,” said Borys. “We are apolitical. We are nonpartisan.”
Federal documents identified unusual patterns of new polls in ridings that saw Conservatives gains in tight races:
- in Ajax-Pickering, the number of polling stations grew 41 per cent from 2006 though actual gains in the number of electors was 22 per cent;
- in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the number of polls increased 26 percent though population gains were only seven per cent;
- in Willowdale, where Liberal incumbent Martha Hall Findlay lost by 932 votes to Conservative MP Chungsen Leung, there was a 27 per cent increase in polls though the number of voters grew only six per cent;
- in Mississauga East-Cooksville, held by seven-term Liberal Albina Guarnieri until she retired in 2011, the number of polls grew 22 percent though population gains were only eight per cent. Conservatives picked up the seat by 676 votes.
Elections Canada offered no explanation for increases in the number of ballot stations. Nor did the agency account for scores of new polls that failed to meet its own guidelines.
Records identify 62 polling stations were provided in condominiums or neighbourhoods with fewer than 200 electors, though Elections Canada requires that “usually no less than 200” justify a polling division. Conservatives won two-thirds of the 62 polls, records show.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand declined an interview request.