If there's been any news on the original Elections Canada investigation into fraudulent robocalls, I've missed it. But once again, there have been developments on related fronts.
There was a preliminary hearing this past week in the matter of the seven ridings whose outcome is being challenged by voters with the legal and financial assistance of the Council of Canadians. Representatives of the CPC had previously argued that the entire matter should be dismissed before it even begins because the Council of Canadians don't like Conservatives. Now we seem to have moved on to actual legal arguments.
Glen McGregor's story provides this helpful summary of one aspect of the law:
While the Elections Act allows voters to challenge the results in a riding if they suspect irregularities that might have changed the outcome, it specifies they must launch the initiative within 30 days of either the day the vote was certified or "the day on which the applicant first knew or should have known of the occurrence of the alleged irregularity, fraud, corrupt practice or illegal practice."
The CPC is arguing that the 30 days was up long ago. I guess the people who received the fraudulent calls were supposed to know they were being conned at the time. The plaintiffs disagree.
But council lawyer Steven Shrybman said the applicants could not have appreciated the significance of the calls they received at the time.
It was only after media reports of the so-called robocalls scandal broke on Feb. 23 did they realize that the calls were part of a wider scheme to suppress non-Conservative voters, he told the court. The 30 days should begin then, in early March.
Given the lack of history of vote suppression schemes like this — that we know of — that makes perfect sense to me. We'll find out soon whether it makes sense to the court.
The other major argument the Conservatives are making is that plaintiffs haven't demonstrated that enough votes were affected to change the outcome in these ridings. In their original submission, in defence of the claim that the robocalls may well have made the difference, the Council included an Ekos study that was reported on in some detail here. (The actual study is here in pdf format.)
But Shrybman's argument here is that the Conservatives are getting ahead of themselves. This was a preliminary hearing before a prothonotary who must consider preliminary motions and decide whether the case can proceed. Shrybman's position is that the CPC's lawyer, Hamilton, is trying to prejudge an issue that should rightfully be considered in the actual lawsuit. And there is at least some indication that the court agreed:
At one point in the arguments, [prothonotary Martha] Milczynski challenged Hamilton, saying vote suppression was uncharted territory and asking how he would count the votes that didn't make it to the ballot box?
Milczynski reserved her decision but is expected to render it quickly.
And now we turn to Dean Del Mastro, who has two different problems.
The first involves allegations that his 2008 campaign violated spending limits and that paperwork was fudged to cover it up. The only new development on that story surfaced last Friday afternoon courtesy of the CBC.
A top staffer for Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro's 2008 election campaign put a "stop payment" on a cheque for election services four days after contacting Elections Canada about spending limits, court documents show.
The cheque was the second part of a $21,000 payment from the campaign that Del Mastro says was made in error because the services weren't ordered. The services, proposed by Holinshed Research Group, would have put Del Mastro over his election spending limit. The first cheque from the campaign to Holinshed had already cleared.
It's circumstantial but in the context of everything else we know, it certainly reinforces the suspicion that there was a coverup here. And incidentally, that CBC story includes a timeline of events and highlights a discrepancy with dates that I had previously noticed. The one invoice from Holinshed which the Del Mastro campaign acknowledges as legitimate was dated on Sept. 14 and is for "GOTV effort (live calls) on e-day." But e-day wasn't until Oct. 14th. Is it normal practice for companies like Holinshed to invoice for work they haven't done yet?
Del Mastro's other problem is what now appears to be an organized scheme to circumvent campaign donation limits. The original story broke about two weeks ago and involves donations to the campaign allegedly being reimbursed, along with a $50 bonus, by a company named Deltro Electric Ltd. which is owned by the Deaner's cousin, David Del Mastro. A couple of days ago it was reported that two of the donors had come forward with copies of the cheques paid to them by Deltro. The latest development is an offer by "some of the donors" to have a heart-to-heart with Elections Canada in return for immunity. Elections Canada isn't commenting publicly but I'd be very surprised to find out that they're not interested.
Bear in mind that the candidate himself hasn't been personally implicated in this. As far as I can tell his signature isn't on any of this paperwork and none of the donors claim to have had any contact with the him. It's Dean's cousin David who could be in hot water on this one.
But public perception is another matter. It becomes increasingly difficult for Del Mastro to be the CPC's public defender with all this controversy swirling around his own campaign.
Hopefully we can look for more developments on this as well as a decision on whether or not the Council of Canadians' suit can proceed. And we still look forward to the Supreme Court's decision regarding the results in Etobicoke Centre on July 10th.