Montreal Gazette

Blackface redux, disposable pencils


In the days leading up to Monday's election, it was sometimes difficult to pinpoint what the biggest issue was, what Canadians wanted out of the vote, even why going to the polls was even necessary. But vote they did, and come Tuesday morning, they'll be gathering around the watercoole­r — or over Zoom — to discuss the usual assortment of late-breaking surprises and election-day oddities that come whenever they go to the polls. With that in mind, here's a quick rundown of a few items that caught our eye as the campaign wound down and the voting got underway. ANOTHER BLACKFACE PHOTO

The 2019 election campaign was rocked by revelation­s that Justin Trudeau had worn blackface not just once, but multiple times, dealing an embarrassi­ng blow to his image as a champion of multicultu­ralism. In the end, Trudeau was still re-elected, but with a minority government. The Liberals — and many Canadians — may have thought that was the end of it, but on Sunday, hours before Canadians went to the polls, the scandal flared up again when another photo emerged, posted on social media to an account belonging to Canada Proud, a conservati­ve-leaning group. This photo, unlike the others Canadians have seen, was in colour, showing the prime minister in blackface at the Arabian Nights fundraiser for the school he worked at in 2001, an event that had been depicted in earlier controvers­ial photos. “It was something that I didn't think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry,” Trudeau said at the time the first photos emerged. It was unclear if Sunday's posting had any effect on voters, but it stirred up plenty of chatter on social media.


As Canadians went to cast their ballots on Monday, some were greeted by an unfamiliar sight at their polling stations: lineups. While not an issue across the country, social media users posted photos of long lines at numerous stations. Elections Canada had predicted longer wait times because of a shortage of poll stations workers and the imperative­s of limiting the number of people close together in polling stations. Because people by now social distance on instinct, some of the lines might have looked longer than they really were. But that didn't stop some from complainin­g. There were a handful of other Elections Canada issues, too. A website that allows Canadians to find their polling stations crashed intermitte­ntly Monday, perhaps due to high traffic volume. Some polling stations had also moved from their usual locales because of the pandemic. And, in a couple ridings, there were issues with polling stations opening late, as workers hadn't showed up. Elections Canada promised that everyone who was in line when polling stations closed would still get to cast a ballot.


The insides of polling stations looked a little different this year, too, with Plexiglas shields separating poll workers from voters and plenty of social distancing being practiced. What caught the attention of many, though, were the individual pencils voters could use to mark their ballots and then discard — or take home as mementoes, if they so desired. The disposable ballot markers were part of the plan to make the election pandemic safe: In September 2020, Elections Canada purchased 16 million golf pencils and another 3.7 million large pencils at a total cost of around $430,000, or one cent per small pencil and six cents per large pencil. The vendors of the pencils, Elections Canada said in tender documents, were expected to sharpen the pencils before delivery.


In a strange developmen­t Monday afternoon, the Tory campaign seemed to admit it wasn't going to do well in the election, and would be content to hold Justin Trudeau's Liberals to a minority government. The Toronto Star reported that O'toole's campaign chair, Walied Soliman, said they'd have achieved their objective if the Liberals were held to a plurality of seats. “The victory comes in advancing the dialogue with Canadians. At the start of this race, nobody would've expected that we'd be in a knife fight in strongly-held Liberal ridings. And today we are. And we are very proud of Erin O'toole and the incredible campaign that has been run here,” the Star quoted Soliman as saying. But, a little later, Soliman said his comments were misreprese­nted: “This election is too close to call. We may not know the result for days. Every vote will count.”

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