The two major media pieces on the stories I've been following in these Friday morning posts were both more about Elections Canada itself than about the events EC has been investigating. (Interestingly enough, neither actually involves robocalls.)
Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the Liberal who was defeated in Etobicoke Centre last year and successfully — pending the Supreme Court appeal — challenged the outcome, drew attention to problems with the evidence Elections Canada presented at the appeal hearing. The most serious of his charges was that many of the 44 voters whose missing registrations the agency had been able to uncover didn't actually live in the riding and that EC failed to highlight that. But someone certainly drew attention to it because I noted that problem when I posted two weeks ago following the hearing. I accused EC of "glossing over" that point in their arguments but it's a bit of a leap to go from that to accusing the agency of attempting to mislead the Supreme Court.
As to the rest, the article ends up discussing the lengths EC went to in the searches they used to locate names and whether the handwriting used to make notes in the margins and the footnotes is big enough for the Justices to read (though the CBC's Terry Milewski was able to read it).
I'm not trying to let EC completely off the hook here.
But I stand by my own assessment which is that someone at the agency suddenly realized this case makes them look bad so a last minute effort was mounted to minimize the damage. It was a rush job and it sounds like the paperwork submitted was a bit haphazard as a result. In this context that doesn't actually help Elections Canada's case but it still doesn't suggest an effort to deceive. As for Wrzesnewskyj, as much as anything else it looks as though he's trying to use the media to continue lobbying the justices to see things his way. He'll just have to wait for a decision like the rest of us.
The second story involves the accusations that donors to Dean Del Mastro's 2008 campaign were repaid, and with a bonus, by the MP's cousin, David Del Mastro, in a scheme designed to circumvent limits on political donations. Some of the donors involved had offered to speak to Elections Canada in return for immunity and a lawyer representing them, Alan Kaufman, put that offer to the agency in writing. The response he got, both in writing and on the phone, resulted in a headline saying that Elections Canada isn't interested and a lede saying that the offer was rebuffed. I'm going to quibble with both when the article contains this:
The letter also said the commissioner's office was willing to hear from witnesses about the allegations but could not offer any immunity.
To expand on the latter part of that sentence, EC's representative has pointed out that they don't have the authority to offer anyone immunity from criminal prosecution. There's a lawyer quoted in the story who does raise a good question: since EC does routinely negotiate compliance agreements with politicians who have violated election laws, why can't it come to an agreement with these potential witnesses? That needs to be clarified. So does this:
... Elections Canada senior legal counsel Audrey Nowack ... cautioned Kaufman about allowing potential witnesses to speak to the media.
She said it affects witness credibility and "may raise questions concerning their motives for providing information and, consequently, may affect the commissioner's assessment of and weight given to the information or the offer to provide it."
In Nowack's letter to Kaufman, she writes that if Elections Canada does communicate with witnesses "the expectation would be that any such communication would be kept confidential and not disclosed to any other person or the media."
Which led to this reaction from Alan Siegel, described as an elections lawyer.
"I certainly understand that Elections Canada is concerned about potential witnesses speaking to the media, but I am more than a little surprised they are effectively making an agreement to cease communicating with the media a condition," he said.
I'd like to see this letter. But that isn't the part that really disturbs me. This is Kaufman relating a telephone conversation with Elections Canada's Nowack earlier this week:
"I see no indication they're going to do anything," he said. "They're going to do nothing. No immunity. No bringing in the Crown. No interest in anything I have to say."
The allegations about this donation scheme have been out there for weeks. There are witnesses ready to talk and documentary evidence, including a sworn affidavit from one participant, already in the hands of reporters. But there is still no indication that anyone in any kind of official capacity is following up and investigating. If some of the offences involved fall outside of EC's jurisdiction then surely it could refer the matter to another agency. Or another agency could read the media reports and actually take some initiative. Want to make people even more cynical about the integrity of our electoral process? Dropping the ball like this would be a good way to go about it. And a good way to get people questioning your motives.
There's one other item of note in this story. Kaufman, the lawyer representing those campaign donors:
... called [Dean Del Mastro]'s office on Parliament Hill on June 5 -- well before the first Citizen stories about the donations -- to alert him.
Kaufman says he spoke to a legislative assistant who was "aghast" at the allegations and promised to someone would get back to him, but no one did, he said.
Two weeks later, Del Mastro claimed he knew nothing of the reimbursement allegations when he was asked about it by reporters...
So once again, Del Mastro claimed to be completely in the dark about something where there's every reason to believe he knew what was happening. Either that or there's a legislative assistant somewhere who should be filing for Employment Insurance.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do. Apparently there are questions being raised about donations to a Conservative MP's election campaign. Imagine that.