ANALYSIS: Anatomy of the scandal that wasn't

On Saturday, Quebec was facing the possibility of a mass concerted movement of Anglophones and Allophones using false documents to register en-mass in a half-dozen ridings.

On Sunday, we learned no such thing was happening.

New registrations were not massive, and were actually down in most of the ridings that had been the centre of concern.

So, what exactly kicked of the furor that had our own Attorney General casting doubt over the most essential component of our democracy?

The play by play is mighty interesting, and possibly quite revealing.

Saturday morning

Le Devoir says returning officers in the Montreal region are concerned about a "worrisome" and "abnormal" flood of people trying to obtain the right to vote. It notes that 75% of the residents in the Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques riding are francophone.

(This original article mistakenly said nearly 95%, which was quickly corrected online. In fact, 67% speak French as their mother tongue.)

The article continues: "A demographic phenomenon observed in several ridings within the metropolis, which is worrying electoral authorities at the highest level." The story does not point to the source of this specific information.

Only two people are quoted in the paper: Mathieu Vandal, who had quit as the chair of the Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques registration committee because of concerns over the quality of the documents being accepted, and the Elections Quebec spokesperson.

There is however, a third person in the story. An anonymous returning officer, who does say the demographic profile of people registering does not match that of the ridings, and that this phenomenon is being seen at a number of ridings in the heart of Montreal.

It should be noted that returning officers must be apolitical and neutral. At the same time, parties are allowed to appoint observers to monitor the activity.

....two days later

On Monday, Mathieu Vandal said on the CBC that he never told Le Devoir that he had seen a disproportionate influx of Anglophones and Allophones trying to register in Sainte--Marie-Saint-Jacques.

"No, no. I do not have the experience and the knowledge and the statistics to prove that."

host: "You didn't say that? That was a misquote?"

"Absolutely. I can not compare because this is the first time I was in that position. I was organizing elections, but never president of the *commission de revision."

Vandal does confirm, both on the CBC and in an open letter in Le Devoir, that he is concerned about the lack of rules for proving residency, and the lack of clarity about the documents required.

So, Was Vandal misquoted?

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding between Vandal and the reporter?

Or did the paper have a different source for this information? Perhaps the third, anonymous returning officer in the story.

Or perhaps a different person altogether.

The "95%" mistake is also interesting. This could have been a simple oversight. The reporter could have gotten mixed up with a different riding, for example. Things like this happen. Or, the incorrect figure may have been provided to him from one of his sources.

The questions are obvious and the answers unclear.

Saturday evening

Le Devoir reports that a total seven ridings have "been assaulted with an abnormal flood of Anglophones and Allophones that have been trying to vote for the past week."

The article says the phenomenon has been seen in Sherbrooke, Saint-François, Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne, Westmount-Saint-Louis, Groulx, and Miles-Iles. It does not note the source for this information, not even an anonymous one.

The only people quoted in the story are Pauline Marois and an Elections Quebec spokesperson.

More than half way down, the article brings up some source within the Parti Quebecois: "According to the PQ, the phenomenon comes especially from Anglophone universities that incite students from other provinces to register to vote, often to cause a detriment to the sovereigntist party."

At around the same period of time, the chief electoral officer does confirm that certain ridings appear to be experiencing heightened demand. The list is similar, but not the same, as the one published in Le Devoir. Specifically, the chief electoral officer does not list Groulx or Miles-Iles.

The question raised here is so obvious they should hardly be controversial.

If the writer's source about the ridings is Elections Quebec, then why are the lists slightly different? Once again, it could be a simple oversight. But Groulx and Miles-Iles? Odd. If the paper did not get its list of ridings from Elections Quebec, but from some other place, then why are the two lists so similar?

Sunday

The Elections Quebec retracts its previous statement. It says the information it had sent out that some ridings were experiencing an influx was faulty and provided by a "political party" that it will not name.

Le Devoir, however, reveals that it knows what this source is...the Parti Quebecois.

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