I had fully intended to do a recap of the week's news regarding the investigation into the possibility of vote suppression in last year's federal election and yesterday afternoon I began to draft something. Yesterday evening I saw the news and gutted the first few paragraphs of the draft. Since Alison has hit all the high points at Creekside, I would encourage you to go read her post.
Alison leads with last night's CBC report, as she should. This is an independent investigation by a different news organization than the one that first broke the story. This independent investigation not only finds fraudulent phone calls in 31 ridings across the country but identifies a pattern that strongly suggests the goal of these calls was to misdirect voters who opposed the Conservatives.
Are we allowed to have conspiracy theories now? I had already intended to draw attention to this post from Stephen Lautens and the CBC story only strengthens his conclusion: that there was "a carefully coordinated plan" at work here.
The Sixth Estate list of ridings where hoax calls have been reported continues to grow, if more slowly than before. The count is now up to 82, which is more than a quarter of the country. I haven't noticed any news that Elections Canada has formally added any more ridings to its list than last reported but that may change now. I was originally going to report the latest from the Globe and Mail but that seems irrelevant. Is it me or does Canada's "paper of record" seem content to eat everyone else's dust on this story?
The identity of Pierre Poutine, the alias used by the person thought to have arranged the fraudulent calls to voters in Guelph, remains a mystery despite the suggestion that it would be revealed earlier in the week. I'm tempted to recycle one of my lectures about anonymous sources and the reason they sometimes ask to stay off the record. I think we got played on this one. All the reporting I've read suggests that the alias doesn't belong to Michael Sona, though there might be people who wish we believed it does.
Julian Fantino's riding remained in the news but Alison covered that nicely. There have also been stories involving voter registration in Scarborough-Rouge River and reports of a huge number of harassing phone calls, along with other irregularities, in Ajax-Pickering. It would be a mistake to assume that every report like this is part of a single massive conspiracy. There may well have been real problems in some ridings that have nothing to do with each other. On the other hand, Ajax-Pickering is a riding that the Conservatives badly wanted. It makes you go hmmmmm, doesn't it?
The opposition parties have called for a public inquiry into all of this and for a while I was inclined to agree. But I've changed my mind for the moment. I'm inclined to agree with this:
...commissions of inquiry are less about finding personal guilt or responsibility and more about identifying institutional weak points and failures. As notes above, there is nothing inherent in the electoral system which gives rise to this behaviour - unless one counts the nature of the Conservative party - and, as such, there would be few recommendations to be made in order to prevent this from happening again. It is likely that a commission would identify wrongdoing, indicate that the system responded appropriately and that no statutory changes are required.
There have been statutory changes suggested, such as removing the exemption from the do-not-call registry that the political parties currently enjoy. But we don't need a public inquiry to highlight things like that. We have laws on the books to deal with the kind of fraud that's suspected here — the issue right now is proving that it happened and identifying the perpetrators. I suspect that much of the push for a public inquiry is really an expression of impatience to get that done. If so, it would be better to keep the pressure on the government to follow through on the commitment to strengthen EC's powers and to provide the necessary resources.
As for the attempts by some to suggest that the whole thing has been overblown and there's really no scandal here, I beg to differ and the CBC just made that easier to do. Given the erosion of public confidence in so many of our institutions — I'm looking at the RCMP, CSIS and local law enforcement as just one example — I think it's vital that we do everything necessary to shore up confidence in our electoral system.
There's more than enough here to suggest that Elections Canada should continue and even expand their investigation. I'll leave you with the words of the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board.
Are any political operatives, of any party, guilty of unethical or illegal behaviour? If so, that's a serious breach that demands investigation and redress, irrespective of whether those calls ever managed to change a single voter's behaviour. Fraud is fraud, whether or not it has the intended result.
We don't need to ever know whether turnout was affected by fraudulent calls in 2011 to know that fraudulent calls are wrong.