Elections commissioner sanctions Green Party for peddling 'misleading' polling data

Canada's elections watchdog has sanctioned the Green Party for deliberately pushing "misleading" polling data on the eve of last fall's federal election.

Erroneous information distributed in flyers in hard-fought Victoria riding

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May arrives with candidates Jo-Ann Roberts, right, and Frances Litman, to watch election results at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria on Oct. 19, 2015. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Canada's elections watchdog has sanctioned the Green Party for deliberately pushing "misleading" polling data to sway votes on the eve of last fall's federal election. 

Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté  released a compliance agreement with Green Party officials for offences contravening the Canada Elections Act.

Offences relate to distributing election survey results the day before the Oct. 19 vote.

According to the report, Emily McMillan, executive director of the Green Party of Canada, retained a polling firm to conduct surveys in the electoral district of Victoria over a six-day period leading up to voting day. It was intended to be used for internal party use only to monitor trends, as the data had a high margin of error of 9.8 per cent.

According to the polling firm, reliable data for public dissemination would have required purchasing a more expensive polling services package. That margin of error would suggest a sample size of roughly 100 respondents.

McMillan and her deputy received, but did not read or pass along to other inexperienced party workers, an advisory from Elections Canada reminding of the rules.

The day before the election, the party's national campaign manager directed local volunteers to print and distribute, in certain neighbourhoods in Victoria, a flyer containing survey results. About 1,200 of the 2,500 flyers were distributed door-to-door in targeted neighbourhoods.

Intended to sway votes

The flyer was missing key information required under the act, and suggested the NDP and Green Party candidates were only one percentage point apart. 

The flyer stated, "It's a Two-Way Race — the choice is yours Victoria — Latest Polling Results." That single-digit statistic was from the first of the six polls.

Further, distribution of the flyer was intended to influence votes of electors in neighbourhoods where there were believed to be more Conservative supporters, according to the report. The "intention" was to strategically shift votes from Conservative supporters over to the Green candidate to block the NDP candidate.

"The deliberate use of unreliable polling data intended for internal use, which use did not meet the informational requirements of the Act - as well as the erroneous presentation of the polling data as being the latest results when subsequent polling data was trending down - was misleading," the report reads. "It constituted an attempt to induce a person to vote or not to vote for a particular candidate using a pretence or contrivance, and as such, an offence under paragraph 482(b) of the Act."

Penalties imposed

The report said acknowledgment of non-compliance does not constitute a guilty plea in the criminal sense, and that no record of conviction is created as a result.

As penalty, the executive director must take a number of steps, including:

  • Prepare a notice in both official languages describing facts of the case and the compliance agreement.
  • Post a notice on the first page of the web site for at least 30 days.
  • Distribute contents of the notice as a bilingual news release to national media.
  • Give written notice to directors and federal council members about the compliance agreement.

'Party issue'

A notice from the Green Party of Canada issued today acknowledges breaking the rules.

"As noted by the Commissioner of Canada Elections, the Green Party of Canada cooperated fully and in good faith with the Commissioner's investigation, and admits responsibility for the acts and omissions described in the compliance agreement," it reads. "The Party also undertakes to ensure that these acts and omissions do not reoccur."

On election day, NDP MP Murray Rankin held his seat, defeating Green candidate Jo-Ann Roberts, a former CBC host.

A spokesman for Green Leader Elizabeth May said it's a party issue.

"This was an internal party matter, and it did not involve the leader," Dan Palmer told CBC News in an email.

Asked if McMillan would be remaining in her post, he responded: "Absolutely." 

McMillan also issued a statement insisting that the "small, grassroots political party" executed a "professional and respectable" campaign.

 "We regret this onetime lack of compliance with the Elections Canada Act, and we have put measures in place to ensure full compliance with the Act in future," she said.



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