Thursday, March 1, 2012

This is Not a Matter of Partisanship

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a reader when it comes to the news. And something, that one day my doctor will tell me to stop doing for the sake of my blood pressure, I like to do is read the comments made online by people reading the same news stories. Sometimes, reading some of the comments one finds online makes you shake your head, pour yourself a scotch, and ponder a slow descent into alcoholism until the stupid stops.

With regards to the Robocall Scandal, there has been any number of partisan hacks spewing venom for their chosen party. There's a few leftist-centrists who are engaging in this as well, but by far they are outnumbered by the members of the right who take to these message boards. I don't feel like copying and pasting some of things that have been said online here, but I will be addressing the comments and challenges made towards those of us on the left of the political spectrum.

Firstly, let's start with the defence being used by Stephen Harper himself: This entire affair is nothing more than a Liberal-NDP smear campaign. Conservative commentators have leap onto this defence and are repeating it ad nauseam on website after website. I feel I need to break this into two discussions: Firstly, we shall explore the Conservative hypocrisy on denouncing a smear campaign. Secondly, we shall explore why this defence is wrong fundamentally.

"Michael Ignatieff: He didn't come back for you."

"Michael Ignatieff: Just visiting."

"Stephane Dion: Not worth the risk."

"Stephane Dion is not a leader."

Do I really need to continue? The Conservatives denouncing something as a smear campaign, and making it sound as such such tactics are deplorable, is a bit like the thief on the street robbing you at knife point but ranting about thieves who use guns when they rob people the whole time. As if there's something noble about stealing when he does it with a knife, but it becomes too barbaric and unfair when someone switches to a gun.

The Conservatives have set themselves up as the party of the smear campaign, starting with Paul Martin (anyone remember the black and white close up photo on Paul's face ad?), following through on Dion, and then Ignatieff. And you can beat your last dollar that the Conservatives already have at least one ad drawn up for each of the NDP front runners, hoping to destroy the new leader as quickly as they destroyed Dion.

I don't like smear campaigns...I think there are few people who do, which is why I want to say that I really dislike the tactic. But, if Conservatives are going to continue to use these tactics they cannot cry foul when someone starts using the tactics against them.

Furthermore, the Conservatives have personally attacked the Leaders of the Opposition. The Robocall Scandal is a trying to get to the bottom of whether or not the Conservative Party was involved in any illegal activity. Some have jumped the gun and are already saying the Conservatives were directly involved (and the evidence does seem to be mounting to make that the case), but these are facts and questions that are being presented and asked...Not accusations meant to destroy someone personally.

That brings us to the next part of this first argument: That the defence of this being a smear campaign is valid.

A smear campaign suggests that someone is presenting false evidence and actively saying that someone else was involved. Furthermore, these accusations are often groundless and are driven more towards a questioning of character and ability. The Robocall Scandal doesn't really meet these requirements.

With the exception of a few, pretty much all the non-Conservatives are asking for the government to cooperate with an investigation and work towards finding out why these calls occurred, not directly accusing the government of being involved.

Proof is linking those involved to the Conservative Party, and the opposition is rightly asking questions about the government's involvement with those parties that are connected to the scandal. Asking what the government knew, and when they knew it, is not a direct accusation of guilt. Rather, it is a question that is pose to get the government to come on board and work with others to get to the bottom of what is shaping up to be the worst case of potential electoral fraud in modern Canadian history. 

But that is not what the Conservatives hear. Rather they only hear direct accusations and their only retort is "Prove it."

We've all used 'prove it' as an excuse at least once in our lives. And 99.99% of the time, it's the defence we use when we know we've done something wrong and have nothing else to say about it. Now, that is not a direct accusation of guilt. Rather, I'm saying that it is in the best interest of the Conservatives to stop trying to stonewall and district the other parties (and Canadians) and work with Parliament and Elections Canada to get to the bottom of this.

The only reason to not work towards a speedy resolution of this scandal, is if the Conservatives know that the end result is going to be bad for them.

I've rambled enough on that aspect, so let's move on to the next one.

The next defence is that the Conservatives do not engage in that type of politics, what with Dean Del Maestro standing in the House of Commons and specifically saying that the Conservatives do not make misguiding phone calls...

Yet, Irwin Cotler would have a thing or two to say about that. Furthermore, this is not the first time the Conservatives have run afoul of Elections Canada. A plea deal on the in-and-out spending scandal shows that Conservatives have breached the Elections Act in the past, but have used stall tactics and then eventual legal manoeuvring to take a slap on the wrist and protect the people who should have ended up in jail.

So, to say that Conservatives don't engage in that kind of politics is wrong in all ways, shapes and forms. And if you doubt that, check the quotes from their attack ads listed above to see what kind of political messages the Conservatives put out into the Canadian political discourse.

And now a defence so ridiculous, I have to debunk this one personally.

A comment on a CTV News web page said that this scandal is ridiculous because it only targeted Liberals and NDP voters. Furthermore, Conservatives couldn't have gotten that information so it seems like a smear campaign indeed.

Obviously, that comment has never worked on an election campaign. The first phase of any electoral campaign is your office receiving the local voter's list, which includes addresses and phone numbers. As you canvass, from door to door or by phone, you keep track of individuals who are supporters, likely supporters, undecided, or not voting for you.

In the last provincial election, I was quickly identified as a NDP supporter by the Saskatchewan Party when they phone canvassed my home. The next week, after the revenue sharing announcement, I received a robocall (not identified as being from the Saskatchewan Party) that praised Brad Wall's leadership on opposing the plan and asked if I supported the NDP on that subject.

I was not the only NDP supporter who received that call. I didn't ask how the Saskatchewan Party got that information, I knew damn well how the got it. Because I had identified as a 'hostile voter' they knew that I would not be voting for them and they would have a record of that.

The same is true on the federal level. You keep track of the people you've talked to, if only to make sure that you don't contact the same people twice (especially if they said they won't vote for you). As such, Conservatives would have identified Liberal and NDP voters during the campaign to identify their own supporters. If you wanted, you could easily create a list of NDP and Liberal voters in addition to your own campaign supporters.

So, the idea that this is fishy because they couldn't have access to that information...Well, it's completely incorrect as you gain that information during the campaign.

Then we have the fact that a few Conservatives have jumped on the suspicious call bandwagon. Now, a lot of people have already dismissed this as a Conservative ploy. I won't outright dismiss, but the conspiracy theorist in me knows that if I was going to do something like this, I'd robodial a few of my own campaigns for plausible deniability when/if word of what went down came out.

The fact that more Conservatives haven't come forward though, is actually what is disturbing about this. I say that because if a bunch of Conservatives came forward, and then the news came out that the party was behind the calls, those candidates and party officials would be in a further heap of trouble. So, the fact that only one or two have made accusations that their riding was also called limits the amount of fallout should the party be connected, but also sows a few seeds of doubt over whether their party was actually behind the calls.

That brings us to the next defence: That this is opposition parties trying to manipulate the political system, and due to sour grapes, are trying to change the democratic election results.

This is the most dangerous argument the Conservatives are using, but not for the reasons you think. Firstly, this is an argument we've heard from the Conservatives before. Remember all the talk before the election about a coalition government? It was undemocratic. It was against the will of the people. It was the opposition trying to steal the election.

The undemocratic argument is a quick go to for the Conservatives when the opposition does something that they don't like. BUT, this argument undermines their own defences. By championing democracy as an argument, the Conservatives are betting large on not being connected to this in any significant way. If it does come out that the party was involved, then they will have admittedly been undemocratic.

Furthermore, this is not attempting to undermine democracy if the allegations are true. If the allegations are true, then democracy has already been undermined and some of the people sitting in the House of Commons are sitting there illegitimately. That is the real crux of this scandal, that some of our Members of Parliament are shrouded in doubt over whether or not they are the representative that their riding actually wanted.

This is not a problem, or doubt, that we should have in Canada. And the fact that even a SINGLE MP could be illegitimate casts doubt on the entire Parliament, and worse, the entire government and our democratic system in general.

And that brings us to the most important factor of this story, and the title of this post. This issue is not about partisanship, or smear tactics, or attempting to change the results of the election. This is about ensuring that the Will of the People, the fundamental driving force of a democracy, was respected. That those who wanted a vote, were given a chance to exercise their democratic right in a free and open environment.

This is not anti-Conservative, or pro-NDP/pro-Liberal. Rather, this issue is solely pro-democracy. An assault on our democracy has taken place, there is no doubt about that. All parties should be coming together to find out who was behind this, how it happened and what can be done to prevent this sort of undermining from happening again.

All the parties in Ottawa have spoken to the importance of democracy and the will of the people at some point or another; and it is time for them all to put their money where their mouth is and work together to ensure that our democracy is being protected and enhanced.

The goal of a political party in a democratic system should be to encourage people to vote, hopefully by inspiring them or by presenting practical ideas; the goal should not be to gain power or to turn voters off from exercising their democratic right.

The Conservatives have proven in the past that they are resistant to work with the other parties, or to admit that they've made a mistake; or to even cooperate with the systems of Parliament and the like. This is a party that was found in contempt for withholding documents from the opposition, let us not forget. As such, they need some gentle, if not rough, prodding to work with others and get to the bottom of things.

If the Conservatives are deeply involved in this scandal, there is no telling where the chips will fall for those involved. But if the Conservatives have nothing to hide, they should stop the stonewalling and the jeers during question period, and instead commit to working with Parliament and Elections Canada to get the country past this issue and remove the seeds of doubt that are slowly blossoming in our minds over whether or not we have a legitimate government.

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