Election law changes could boost Conservative MPs' campaign tools

A little-noticed provision in the Conservative government's controversial bill to rewrite Canada's election laws could boost usage of a real-time mobile application developed by two backbench Conservative MPs.

Party scrutineers will be free to use smartphones while supervising polls

Election day scrutineers will soon be free to use mobile phones and tablets to update voter information directly from polling stations, thanks to the changes brought in by Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre last spring. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

A little-noticed provision in the Conservative government's controversial bid to rewrite Canada's election laws could boost usage of a mobile campaign application developed by two backbench Conservative MPs.

Under the old law, candidate representatives or scrutineers were prohibited from using any communications device at a voting station during polling hours.

But under changes brought in by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre last spring, scrutineers will be free to use smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices while monitoring turnout, provided they don't take photos, record audio or video, prevent an elector from casting a ballot or "violate the secrecy of the vote."

The new rules are set to come into force Dec. 19.

While this change has so far escaped widespread attention, it should come as no surprise that federal political parties are already hard at work brainstorming ways to take advantage of it when Canadians next go to the polls.

Both the New Democrats and the Liberals have been moving towards mobile-friendly, get-out-the-vote tools. 

But the change will likely be met with the greatest applause by the makers of ProxiVote, a mobile app that promises to deliver "instant election day status reports for maximum advantage."

Conservative MPs credited with idea

Last spring, Jennifer Pilzecker, a former Conservative staffer turned ProxiVote adviser, touted the product in a 20-minute webinar posted to YouTube by the Manning Centre, which offers election training to conservative-minded politicos.

"What a couple of Canadian politicians — you may know them, Rod Bruinooge and Rob Clarke — came up with was something to really help on the ground," Pilzecker said.

Bruinooge and Clarke are Conservative MPs, representing Winnipeg South and Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River, Sask., respectively.

The video includes an extensive overview of exactly how the app could be used by party representatives monitoring the polls on election day.

"Get out the vote, is, for me, something that I think is going to revolutionize ... elections in a lot of ways, because the information we're getting on election day is real time … there's no lag time," Pilzecker explained to the virtual audience.

"We can assign scrutineers to the various polls, and we have our bingo sheets, which correspond to each registered voter."

In the video, she demonstrates how a scrutineer can use the app to check off voters on arrival. 

"That information is immediately sent back to campaign headquarters, so you have that information when you're deploying calls — be they robocalls or person calls from the campaign office."

App only available to 'right-leaning' parties

The software also allows scrutineers to keep track of numbers as the results come in.

"You can add the different parties, and as the votes are coming in, you'll have an idea as to the numbers before a lot of people running against you," she said.

ProxiVote is a mobile app that promises to deliver 'instant election day status reports for maximum advantage.' It was developed by Conservative MPs Rod Bruinooge and Rob Clarke. (ProxiVote website)

She also noted that ProxiVote is already being used in Canada "by a couple of political parties," and said the company is also doing some work with the Republican National Committee in the United States.

"It is only available to right-leaning, conservative ideology groups or parties, as of yet."

In response to a question from a participant, Pilzecker acknowledged that the use of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices inside polling stations "is a bit of a grey area."

"But even if you can't, you can step outside the door, pull up the single sheet and mark people as 'voted,' and everything would be transmitted back," she pointed out.

She estimated the app would likely cost $5,000 per riding.

According to the Manning Centre website, the webinar took place on May 15, one day after the election bill was passed by the House.

The app was purportedly deployed by the Conservative campaign team during the recent Whitby-Oshawa byelection, although at that time, scrutineers would still have been barred from using devices inside polling stations.

MP's wife listed as company owner

The ProxiVote website doesn't name Bruinooge or Clarke, but simply states that "the team" behind the product "is made up of seasoned campaigners and political strategists who have built this product for helping deliver success on the right."

It also notes the app is owned by Proximity Mobile, "an indigenous company run by aboriginal CEO Chantale Bruinooge." She is married to Rod Bruinooge.

In a financial disclosure statement filed with the ethics commissioner last year, Rod Bruinooge lists his wife as the sole owner of 6317414 Manitoba — the parent company of Proximity Mobile —  which he described as a "multi-player gaming company." He lists himself as a director of the company.

In his filing, Clarke states he has a "nominal interest" in 6317414 Manitoba, which he describes as a "game platform company."

Neither Clarke nor Bruinooge responded to interview requests from CBC News, nor did Poilievre.

Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann told CBC News that ProxiVote is "an internal matter."

"We welcomed the passage of the Fair Elections Act that took steps to modernize the electoral process while making election laws tougher, clearer and easier to follow," he said in an email.

Meanwhile, though the New Democrats weren't willing to share any specific details on their plans to take advantage of the relaxed rules on smartphone and tablet use at polling stations, a party official hinted they were more than ready to take on the Tories on the mobile technology front.

The Liberals also did not respond directly to CBC's request for comment, but the party has already rolled out mobile tools to allow canvassers to send updates while door-knocking, which suggests they, too, will be joining the election day mobile data arms race next fall.

With files from Laura Payton


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