Graeme Gordon, staff
It was not too long ago that corruption was front-and-centre in Canadian politics. The Sponsorship Scandal that rose to prominence in 2004 as a public spectacle was largely responsible for the downfall of the Liberal government who had held power for 13 years. Stephen Harper’s winning bid for a Conservative government two years later, in 2006, was based on a platform that stressed bringing transparency to government. Harper’s first major piece of legislation passed as Prime Minister was the Federal Accountability Act, which was meant to stop the government corruption that had occurred in the past decade. Fast-forward six years from then and it appears that the act was merely a ploy to gain power and has since been disregarded. In the past six years, Harper’s Conservative government has changed little in the way of corruption. It is now the Conservative government that is blatantly disregarding the foundations of how it took power, participating in unscrupulous behaviour.
The most recent dissolute actions, brought to public attention last week, are the robocalls and phony Liberal campaigners’ harassing phone-calls that have both been part of last year’s Conservative campaign. These serious allegations have been linked to a young parliamentary staffer, 23 year old Michael Sona. Yet many see him as only a scapegoat for a much more elaborate scheme that is linked to people higher in the Conservative chain-of-command. One who has this opinon is Andrew Coyne, a nationally renowned political columnist, has pointed out in his article published in the National Post that it is unlikely a lone culprit orchestrated the scandal. Coyne said, “It beggars belief that local campaign workers in 18 different ridings could have separately hit upon the same scam, or carried it out without the knowledge of anyone outside the riding. The notion that the whole thing could be put down to one over-zealous young campaign worker, as some are putting about, is even less credible.”
Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal party, also believes that Sona was incapable of acting independently in targeting Liberal voters (and new allegations of NDP voters too) in phony Elections Canada phone-calls to send voters to the wrong location for their polling stations. In a press conference held Saturday, Rae spoke to reporters about the scandal, “It’s obvious now that there’s a pattern here of wrongdoing and misbehaviour in the last election that has kept a lot of people from voting … that could not have been done by one person. We now have evidence in up to 27 ridings.”
Rae’s claim of 27 bolsters the original claims as more and more allegations have been flooding in from individuals claiming to have been duped by the scam.
Mark Davidson, a professor of Law and Society, said that he sees the new scandals as compatible with the Conservative party. “I think the scandal reveals a disdain for public involvement from this government, which is manifesting in other areas of policy, as well as in the amount of power that has been taken from the House and concentrated in the PM’s office,” he said. “My hope is that people will start to see this government for what it is–hostile to democracy and the public good–and that they won’t forget this scandal when we go to the next election.”
Too bad for Davidson and others outraged, they will not be able to express their outrage until the Conservative’s decide to hold the next election. A decision granted to them by their majority in the House, even though it appears from these scandals that this majority may have been usurped through unlawful tactics.
The NDP are also claiming to have been targeted by the deceptive robocalls. One riding in Winnipeg saw a former NDP MP lose by a mere 300 votes to the Conservative representative. The robocalls could have easily made the difference in the outcome of this riding, as well as many of the other ridings that had close margins of victory and were also affected by robocalls.
Another dirty tactic, revealed by a separate investigation conducted by the Ottawa Citizen, found that individuals pretending to be Liberal and NDP campaign representatives called and harassed non-Conservative voters. These impostors called at inconvenient hours and purposely annoyed voters in an attempt to discourage them from voting for any party but the Conservatives.
So far there is limited information given from Elections Canada about the ongoing investigation into the robocalls that began in November. The Post Media News-Ottawa Citizen investigation has divulged even less information on who the impostors are, although some are claiming that they are Conservative campaigners. Whatever the fallout is to be in the coming days, one thing is certain: these tactics could have had a profound effect on the election results last April. With the Conservatives gaining a majority in the House of Commons with only a 39% approval rating, it suggests that many of the ridings they won were achieved by narrow margins. These two new scandals put these narrow victories into question because voters were either impeded from casting a vote or were given a misrepresentation of other candidates that may have led voters to cast their vote differently.
Overall, these new scandals are just two to add to the growing list of questionable behaviour from the ruling Conservatives. The contempt of parliament, the unfair distribution of the money in the Economic Action Plan and the refusal to show MP personal spending, seem to undermine any weight the Federal Accountability Act ever had on giving Canadians transparency of their government’s activities. The credibility of the present government seems to be fraught with as much scandal and corruption as the past Liberal government. It is only a matter of time, if this trend continues, that one of these scandals will also be its demise.