Hébert: Robo-call accusations raise uncomfortable questions
By Chantal Hébert
MONTREAL—If there is a tactical scheme behind the so-called voter suppression scandal, it is not readily apparent in the list of allegedly abused ridings put forward by the opposition parties.
Only a small fraction of the 50 federal seats where the margin of victory was less than 5 per cent last May — and where presumably every vote counted — are alleged to have been targeted by fraudulent calls.
Liberal ridings such as Brampton-Springdale and Ajax-Pickering that were known to be high on the Conservatives’ to-win list (and that they did win) were apparently not plagued by such calls.
On the other hand, a substantial number of the three dozen ridings on the opposition list were safe Conservative seats.
Take the Ontario riding of Wellington-Halton Hills. On May 2, former Conservative minister Michael Chong kept the seat with a majority of 26,000 and 63 per cent of the vote. He clearly needed no help to get re-elected.
Chong has emerged as one of the least partisan voices in Parliament. He resigned from Stephen Harper’s first cabinet over a matter of principle. It is hard to imagine that he would have countenanced party-sanctioned dirty tricks in his riding.
In Simcoe-Grey, the Conservatives won by more than 20,000 votes and the aggrieved Liberals ran fourth, behind the NDP and former Conservative incumbent Helena Guergis.
In the Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park, both opposition parties have complained that their supporters were victims of early morning or late night calls from people misrepresenting themselves as volunteers for their campaigns. In Davenport, the NDP reported the same complaint.
The Conservatives did not really have a dog in either fight. They ran a distant third in both ridings.
And then did Justice Minister Rob Nicholson (majority 16,000 +) or Conservative incumbent Rick Dykstra (majority 13,000 +) seriously need a dose of dark arts to hang on their Niagara Falls and St. Catharines ridings?
A Machiavellian mastermind could always have orchestrated fraudulent calls to a host of ridings where such tricks were unlikely to affect the outcome for or against the Conservatives just to throw anyone off the scent of an orchestrated pattern.
But that sounds like a high-risk investment for a relatively low yield. The Conservative vote is not noticeably more vigorous in the ridings where the opposition is alleging that fraudulent calls took place than in comparable ones.
That is not to say that something is not rotten about the state of Canada’s electoral democracy or that the ruling Conservatives have no responsibility in that deteriorated state. But they are not alone.
Under Stephen Harper, the Conservatives have pushed the line of what is considered fair game in partisan politics.
It now basically sits on the divide between what is legal and what is not. The evidence suggests that the closer parties play to that line, the greater the chances that some of their partisans will cross it.
The Liberals just learned that the hard way when it was found that one of their staffers was responsible for leaking details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ private life on Twitter.
Too often, the opposition has been prompt to follow the Conservatives down the same slippery slope.
On that score, the addiction of all federal parties to robo-calling is a telling development.
A technique originally used to dispense useful information to prospective supporters is being turned into an instrument of harassment.
When MP Lise St-Denis left the NDP to sit as a Liberal in January, the New Democrats hired a firm to robo-call her constituents of Saint-Maurice-Champlain.
The NDP was not identified as the sponsor of the calls and recipients were not told that if they pressed 1 to signal their displeasure with St-Denis, they would be re-directed to her riding office — where they swamped the phone lines for a number of days.
There is nothing illegal about the ploy and NDP strategists profess to be totally comfortable with it.
But should it have its place an ethically moral political environment?
Throwing rocks at the Conservatives with one hand will achieve little for the common good if the opposition parties are busy expanding their own glass houses with the other.
Canada News: Hébert: Robo-call accusations raise uncomfortable questions - thestar.com
Last edited by CDNBear; Feb 28th, 2012 at 04:14 PM..