Sunday, February 26, 2012

Someone Told Me Long Ago, There's a Calm Before the Storm

Source: CTV News: Rae Accuses Tories of 'Dirty Tricks' in Robocall Scandal
Source: CBC News: Rae Claims 'Robocalls' Contributed to Liberal Candidates' Defeat
Source: CBC News: Conservative Staffer Resigns Amid Robocalls Probe
Source: CBC News: Damage-Control Bid Over MacKay Chopper Ride 'Stupid'
Source: CBC News: NDP Wants Ethics Probe of Tory Minister Christian Paradis

I know, it's been coming for some time...Actually, any of us who have watched the Conservatives as closely as all of us should be doing knew something like this was coming. With all the focus on the 'robocall' scandal (we need a better name for that...Robogate? Lyin'-Dialin' Scandal? Actually, I kind of like the sound of that one) a few other questionable things the Conservatives have done have fallen under the radar; so I shall try to talk about those as well.

Actually, let's talk about those first.

Let's go back to blog topic favourite Peter MacKay. When it came out that our defence minster was treating military aircraft like his own private travel agent, there was quite a push for MacKay to explain his actions. MacKay defended his use of a search and rescue helicopter as a prearranged look at how the service works...Though numerous e-mails from civil servants and military personnel suggest that the use of the helicopter was last minute and not something that was arranged very well.

Despite this, MacKay stuck to his guns and threatened to sue anyone who continued to 'defame' him in the House of Commons...Despite the threat, no charged have come. Which either mean that MacKay is above pressing charges against fellow Parliamentarians...Or he knows what sort of truth will come out should this issue fall before the courts in any way.

But now new details have come regarding MacKay's response to the questions about his use of military aircraft. MacKay had ordered bureaucrats and military personnel to dig up information about other Parliamentarians who had taken trips on search and rescue aircraft. In a bungled attempt to smear another Parliamentarian, MacKay's office asked for details about Liberal MP Scott Simms' time aboard a similar aircraft...

The only problem is that Simms spent the day with the search and rescue chopper, watching them in action...Whereas MacKay used the chopper as a means of getting airlifted out of his vacation cabin in order to be taken to a waiting Challenger Jet. Furthermore, MacKay's use of the chopper was clearly last second; whereas Simms was invited to spend a day aboard the MacKay's office.

I can see why Simms has referred to this entire situation as 'stupid'. When a Minister uses a trip by another Parliamentarian, especially a trip that came from an invitation from the Minister's office, as an attempt to defend his own use of military aircraft...Well, something is clearly wrong. MacKay's attempts to defend his use of the chopper, and the Challenger jets for that matter, have been flimsy at best.

And now that we see MacKay working behind the scenes to try and justify his actions by pointing to other Parliamentarians who have taken ride-alongs (though for different reasons and for ACTUALLY observing the craft performing its daily duties as opposed to being re-routed per a Minister's request) it only shows that there is more to this story than MacKay is willing to admit. And hopefully, this attempted lackluster defence will only ad to the calls for MacKay's resignation or his forced exit from Cabinet.

Speaking of Cabinet Ministers finding themselves in hot water...Industry Minister Christian Paradis is under fire from the NDP over the fact that a Employment Insurance office was moved from a NDP Quebec riding to a Conservative Quebec riding.

But that's only half the story. The other, and more important half, is that the office was moved into a building owned by a business partner of Paradis' father. The NDP has referred the matter to the Ethics Commissioner, suggesting that there is no reason for the office to have been moved other than for the reason of patronage.

Now, with all the other hot water falling on the Conservatives this week, they haven't really responded to the allegations being levelled against Paradis. When they do, it will expand this story a little more and we'll see what sort of excuse the Conservatives come up with to not only defend the move but defend the move into a building that clearly poses a conflict of interest with the Industry Minister.

And that brings us to what will take up the bulk of this post: The Lying'-Dialin' Scandal that the Conservatives have now found themselves wrapped up in.

Let us first focus on what this entails, in case you've been avoiding the news headlines for the past few days. At the tail end of the last federal election, shocking reports of automatic calls reporting false information to voters became known to the public.

In most cases, it was a message from 'Elections Canada' informing the person that their polling location had been changed. In other cases, there were harassing calls from 'Liberals' late at night; or to Jewish voters during the Sabbath (a day where most observant Jews refrain from many actions, such as answering the phone), again under the guise of 'Liberal' supporters calling to get out the vote.

This came on the heels of an incident at Guelph University where an unidentified man, who we now know as Michael Sona (and who we will get back to), attempted to 'grab' a ballot box and made claims to the polling station being illegal and unauthorized. As such, before the election was even over there were already questionable behaviours being undertaken by the Conservative Party of Canada.

Thanks to confused, and rightly suspicious voters, the number for these robocalls was written down and a complaint was filed to Elections Canada. Those complaints led to the discovery that an Albertan based marketing firm, RackNine was responsible for the fraudulent calls from Elections Canada. The part where this gets interesting is knowing that the Conservatives used RackNine to conduct robo-calls for their campaign...Including in Stephen Harper's own riding.

The CEO of RackNine has expressed concern about his company being used in this way, and denies any knowledge of the contract being taken out. Furthermore, Harper and other 'front line' Ministers have denied that the party was involved in the calls.

Despite this, Conservative Staffer Michael Sona (told you we'd come back to him) has resigned under a cloud of secrecy from his job in Eve Adams' office. There's been no real release as to why Sona has resigned his position, just days after this news broke, but many are assuming there is some kind of link between Sona and the calls that were made...

But something about this doesn't sit right.

The NDP, and numerous others (myself included), figured that some young staffer would be brought forward to answer to these charges and would in turn 'fall on their sword' for the good of the party. After all, that is the Conservative M.O. whenever anything goes wrong is to find a young staffer and throw them under the nearest bus.

An access to information request denied by a Ministry? A staffer did it. A no inserted into a document after it was signed by two other officials? A staffer did it. We lost some paperwork or misplaced some documents? A staffer did it.

Whenever anything goes wrong, a staffer is put forward and they are thrown to the wolves...Of course, eventually they pop up again a few months later when everything has died down and then are given a job that is usually marginally better than the one they had left. Like the man involved in the access to information requests, who was investigated by the RCMP. He was turfed from volunteering during the last election, but afterwards was given a job in a Ministry.

Furthermore, the Conservative Party Machine is denying any involvement and instead is suggesting that if the party is linked to this it was done on a constituency level without approval...

The problem is that doesn't mesh up with everything we know about the Harper Conservatives. Harper has ruled his party since day one and the fact that MPs are muzzled by the PMO shows that nothing goes on without Harper's approval. So, if any evidence comes forward that the Conservatives were involved directly in these calls, there is no way that Harper can claim to have plausible deniability.

As Andrew Coyne and others have pointed out there are a lot of questions to this scandal; all of which point to Conservative to involvement and do not reflect well on the party as a whole.

I've worked on election campaigns, and they are fairly organized. The decision to use a company to make mass calls across the nation would be not only a decision that could only be made by a higher up member of the campaign...but also a decision that would cost money. As such, only someone with spending power for the campaign could have authorized such a program.

Furthermore, the fact that these calls occurred in as many as 35 ridings across Canada shows that this kind of program was not organized at a constituency level. Coyne points out that it's possible that all these ridings stumbled upon this idea and went with it...But he also points out that it increases the odds of people recognizing that they were committing an illegal action.

But it also increases the odds of someone higher in the organization finding out what is going on. If 35 different constituency organizations used RackNine to undertake calls that violated the Elections Act, someone at the Conservative HQ would have heard about it and likely taken action to stop it knowing what it would do to the party if it came out.

Since this didn't happen, we can only assume that the order to use these misguiding calls came directly from the Conservative National Campaign. Again, keeping in mind Harper's controlling nature on the campaign trail, it's unlikely that he wouldn't have known about a few constituencies engaging in illegal activities in the name of his party...And furthermore, that he wouldn't have put a stop to it in an attempt to save face from it coming out in another way.

Which brings us back to Michael Sona. There's no way a single twenty-some year old managed to organize such a program in ridings across Canada single-handedly. Furthermore, given that the Conservatives denied Sona was even working with them during his ballot box freak out, its even more unlikely that Sona could have undertaken any actions for the Conservatives without being identified as that man who tried to grab a ballot box.

So, clearly, Sona has been set up as a scapegoat in the hopes of this entire thing going away quickly. People say there could be jail time for anyone who is tied to this scandal, but lets keep in mind the last time the Conservatives ran afoul of Elections Canada: There was a fine, a slap on the wrist, and a plea deal which kept several high-ranking Conservatives out of prison.

So, what happens now?

Now we wait for more details to come forward, on both Sona and the Conservative role in this program. We also wait to see how many defeated challenges will file legal challenges to have by-elections in ridings that may have been affected by voter suppression.

Its doubtful that all 35+ ridings will see their legal challenges hold up in court, if any will at all, but one can only hope that just enough get through to take away this 'false majority' that Harper has created.

But, I say we need to go one step further: The Governor General has in their Reserve Power the ability to dismiss a Prime Minister. It's a power that hasn't been used in decades, but its high time we had a good old constitutional grudge match.

If the Conservatives are tied to this scandal in any tangible way, the Governor General must dismiss Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. To allow such a man, who would essentially be tied to accusations of voter suppression, to remain in our country's top job would be an insult to democracy and to Canadians everywhere.

For a Prime Minister who has focused so heavily on law and order, it is only fair that his party tastes justice when they have contravened the very law and order they claim to venerate. 


Anonymous said...

Good article on the situation,

Like they say, if it walks like a duck........

doconnor said...

It would not be appropriate for the Governor General to dismiss the Prime Minister for something like this.

There are ways the Prime Minster could be removed: If enough Conservative MPs vote non-confidence in the government or if he loses a leadership review at a Conservative convention.

I'm pretty sure Harper would have the good sense to resign before any of those things happen.

Scott said...

doconnor, I'm afraid I have to disagree. If anything, this is the perfect example of a time when a GG should take steps to dismiss a Prime Minister.

I'm not saying that Harper should be dismissed immediately; only in the result that the Conservatives are indeed found to be involved should action be taken to remove Harper from office.

If the Conservatives are tied to this, I doubt Harper would resign. He'd pass the blame to backroom campaign insiders and maybe a few backbench MPs with a Cabinet Minster or two for flavouring...But he personally wouldn't bite the bullet for this.

As for the Conservatives rejecting him...When the 'base' look at the candidates for replacing Harper they're not going to like what they see.

After all, only Jason Kenney would have the 'western' appeal that old guard Reformers like...And he'd be third behind MacKay and Clement in a CPC leadership race.

As such, it would be more palpable to keep Harper than to handover power of the party to a more than likely 'Eastern' leader.

Essentially, I don't think the CPC or Harper will answer for this in a way that sees Harper step aside. As such, the only way for the CPC and their leader to be punished accordingly is for the dismissal of Harper as Prime Minister.