Elections Canada isn’t saying who it’s hired to promote voter participation in the coming federal election, except that they are 13 “social media influencers” that include YouTubers, Olympians, TV stars and musicians.

According to Democratic Institutions minister Karina Gould, former Conservative PM Stephen Harper’s Fair Elections Act that limited Elections Canada’s role to informing voters how and where to cast their ballots amounted to “muzzling” the federal agency.

“Unlike the Conservatives, we will not muzzle scientists, we will not muzzle public servants and we will certainly not muzzle Elections Canada,” Gould told the House of Commons Thursday.

The minister was under fire during question period by Conservative ethics critic Peter Kent, over Elections Canada’s $650,000 social media plan, purportedly to get more voters to the polls.

“Canadians are growing weary of hearing the linked words of ‘influence’ and ‘elections’… nobody can claim to be free of opinions on the issues contained within each parties’ electoral platforms,” said Kent. “How can Elections Canada ensure these social media influencers have never had or have had today, political opinions?”

According to Gould, the agency’s extensive work to inform voters how to participate in the 2015 election as noted in its final report, was insufficient despite the highest voter turnout seen in more than 20 years.

“We empowered Elections Canada to talk to Canadians about the importance of voting,” Gould explained of why the agency was hiring “social media influencers.”

“To reach out to vulnerable populations, to reach out to those groups that don’t vote and to make sure that in this election more Canadians than ever vote.”

The lowest voter turnout on record for a federal election was in 2008, when barely 60 percent cast a ballot. Three years later, turnout crept up to 61.4 percent (third lowest in Canadian history), then climbed to 68.3 percent – its highest level since 1993.

Gould’s nod to “vulnerable populations,” like indigenous voters whose participation is typically lower than the rest of Canada, also doesn’t stack up with Elections Canada data that indicates a 14 percent spike in on-reserve voting trends between the 2011 and 2015 elections.

Elections Canada has yet to respond to questions from The Post Millennial about who these online influencers are or how they were selected (please see Elections Canada’s response at the end of this story).

The Globe and Mail has reported that the unknown 13 were required to sign documents stating that they would remain neutral during the campaign, and also for the year following the campaign.

In an April 2017 editorial, the Globe applauded then-proposed legislation to reverse Fair Elections Act provisions: “it’s good that Bill C-33 will give back to the Chief Electoral Officer the power to promote voting through educational programs aimed at everyone, and not just at schoolchildren, as the Harper reform inexplicably required.”

Apart from enhancing civics literacy in the classrooms of the nation, Harper’s position was that it was the obligation of political parties’ to rally voters to the polls

Meanwhile, Gould told reporters yesterday that Twitter remains the last social media giant to voluntarily conform to a digital charter aimed, in-part at curbing dissemination of false information that could unduly influence voter preference and participation.

“When we announced (the digital charter) … Google, Facebook and Microsoft were very quick to join. They’ve in fact demonstrated a number of actions in the interim,” she said. “However we still haven’t heard from Twitter. We haven’t heard from Twitter … in terms of what they’re planning on doing for the upcoming election.”

*UPDATE – The following is Elections Canada’s complete response to TPM queries on the its ‘social media influencers’ campaign:

Elections Canada’s mandate is to ensure all eligible Canadians electors have the right information they need to register and vote. Our efforts are based on evidence that there are barriers to electoral participation, and are not meant to replace the role played by candidates and political parties, who have a clear role in reaching out to voters.

Young electors tend to have less knowledge of the electoral process and are more likely to say that it’s difficult to find information about it. However, they’re more comfortable with online resources than older electors. Despite the increase in youth turnout in 2015, young people continue to vote at significantly lower rates than older electors. Elections Canada’s research shows that young people, especially first-time voters, face significant barriers to participating in federal elections.

Canadians who are registered and receive a Voter Information Card are much more informed about their voting options. Registration rates among young Canadians is significantly lower than for older Canadians, and this is the primary focus of the new digital Influencer campaign set to launch later this month.

Elections Canada wanted to feature a diverse group of social media influencers to appeal to and reach various communities across Canada. It was essential that the digital campaign include a good mix of influencers with regards to age, gender, ethnicity, community and interests. Elections Canada worked with an influencer agency to develop, plan and execute the influencer campaign.

Selection criteria for influencers included:

– Their eligibility to vote (Canadian citizens 18 years or older)
– Their non-partisan status (no public association to a political party)
– Their Social media reach
– Their availability

Elections Canada will announce the names of participating influencers on June 25, when we officially launch the campaign.

This campaign is one of many initiatives that Elections Canada has planned to reach eligible Canadian electors, including activities focused on older Canadians and people with disabilities, who face particular participation barriers.