Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand says it’s not bribery. Offering raffle prizes such as a Chevy Spark or a video-game console to MMF members who vote is simply a non-partisan inducement to get people to head to the polls, he says.
Others are not so sure. Some note the MMF raffle seems like an unprecedented challenge of the Canada Elections Act section designed to prohibit vote-buying.
"I’m not sure if that’s a bribe or not, but I have to say that I haven’t seen that before," said veteran Manitoba political scientist Christopher Adams.
The unusual raffle that has election professionals studying up on the definition of election bribery was announced last week. Anyone with an MMF membership card who posts a picture of themselves outside of a polling station is eligible to win the car, or a PlayStation 5 console. Those who get five eligible voters to the polling station are entered into a draw for one of five 50-inch televisions.
Even Mr. Chartrand recognizes the raffle is pushing this election campaign in a direction which hasn’t been previously explored. "I could say that I’m (beginning) a new era," said the MMF head, who added that he consulted a lawyer before initiating the raffle.
It’s not unusual or illegal for political parties to encourage voters get to the polls, perhaps by offering free rides to people who lack transportation.
It’s also not unusual for groups such as the MMF to be active in elections, urging their members to vote for the political party most aligned with the group’s goals. Unions in Manitoba often urge their members to vote as a block for candidates deemed favourable.
What’s unique about the MMF raffle, and therefore worrisome to some, is the combination of the extravagance of the prizes and the organization’s undisguised support for a single federal party.
The Canada Elections Act states: "No person shall, during an election period, directly or indirectly, offer a bribe to influence an elector to vote or refrain from voting, or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate or registered party, at the election."
Mr. Chartrand claims his federation adheres to the act because it is not trying to induce MMF members to vote for a particular candidate or party. It must be difficult for Mr. Chartrand to claim non-partisanship without winking. He appears in a flyer for Liberal Jim Carr, and he told the Free Press, "There’s not a doubt, based on the evidence, that the Liberal government has the most I’ve-got-your-back style for the Métis."
A ruling on whether the MMF scheme violates the Canada Elections Act would have to be made by the commissioner of Canada Elections, who traditionally acts on a complaint. The commissioner’s office declined to say last week whether such a complaint has been received about the MMF raffle.
There is insufficient time for a pre-election ruling on the legality of the MMF scheme. The commissioner’s investigation should continue after the election, however, to help define boundaries for the new terrain carved out by the MMF initiative, which might be emulated by other political operatives in future election campaigns.
G.K. Chesterton wrote: "Democracy is like blowing your nose. You may not do it well, but it’s something you ought to do yourself." MMF members — and voters in general, for that matter — should be reminded that their votes are very much encouraged, but cannot be bought or sold.