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Daniel D. Veniez Headshot

Harper Doth Protest Too Much

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Some incredulous observers are saying that the "Robocall Affair" must be the work of a few over-zealous campaign workers. There's just no way that the Conservative party high command would ever permit, sanction, and be the driving force behind such conduct, they say.

In the House of Commons last week, Stephen Harper was fast off the mark and categorically rejected the notion that his national campaign organization had anything whatsoever to do with this situation and other alleged "dirty tricks." Harper jumped to his feet to broadly declare the complete innocence of his inner circle, as well as every single employee and contractor engaged by the Conservative party headquarters.

That is a massively sweeping statement, particularly since the organization is composed of literally hundreds of people working for the Conservative national campaign, directly and indirectly. How can Harper possibly know that all was "ethical and clean" without any meaningful internal review or investigation to confirm that it was? How can he be so sure that a staffer, staffers, or consultants engaged by CPC headquarters was not involved in dirty tricks and potentially illegal acts in some way, even peripherally?

Were we to expect anything different than a robo-wall of denial from Stephen Harper? No, prudence and sincerity would have prompted a much difference response, not the immediate leap to such absolute and decisive conclusions. Watching him in the Commons was eerily reminiscent of that infamous Bill Clinton finger-wagging moment when he declared with deep conviction in front of a global television audience: "I did not have sex with that woman..."

Harper's response was too quick, too defensive, too abrasive, and too angry to be credible. This is what senior Conservatives look and act like when they are circling the wagons. This was not a reflexive response, either. It was a strategic one, clearly designed to signal to Conservative staff and consultants that everything will be fine and they will ride this out so long as people stay with the script and don't talk. They are battening down the hatches and preparing for a very rough storm.

In his six years in power, and two more as party leader, we know one thing about Harper: he is not a delegator; he is a notorious micro-manger. He has an insatiable need to be the master strategist and tactician. He wants to know everything. And nothing is more important to him than the preparation for, and waging of, elections. Nothing. His entire governing ethos is fundamentally predicated on an overarching political calculus. We also know Stephen Harper well enough to know that he grew up in this party from its very beginnings; it his entirely his construct. Whatever is going on in his party, we can be sure he knows about it, and at the very least, inspired it.

In 2011, the most senior and trusted people in the office of the Prime Minister became the most senior and trusted people running the Conservative's national campaign. Harper has surrounded himself with people who execute on his insistence total control of the machinery of government and of the party. These are people who demand full control, total compliance, and unreserved loyalty of members of cabinet, the caucus, and their staffs.

That's why if something bad happened, the probabilities are that Harper and his senior team were at least aware of it.

We know that these people craved a majority. We know that they have a sophisticated target riding operation that was a war room within a war room. We know that these people share a deeply visceral and longstanding hatred for Liberals. And we know that dirty tricks are part of their established modus operandi. Killing the dreaded enemy is an end that justifies many of the means they employ.

So, it is beyond implausible that this is the work of a few rogue volunteer campaign workers and that the inner circle was completely oblivious. Harper's control is simply too tight and too disciplined. The Conservative campaign operations are too focused. These people are exceptionally good at what they do.

For them, this is war. They take no prisoners. The name of the game is winning. Nothing less will do. That mindset has become deeply ingrained in the mindsets of Harper, his front bench, and the senior people who run the party operations and elections. It is a culture that has enveloped the senior reaches of the paid staff of the party, its consultants, and the operations of the government itself.

This is now a criminal investigation. Last week, the former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, reassured Canadians that Elections Canada would not rest until it gets answers; its full statutory and investigative weight will be aggressively applied to getting at the truth. I hope that Elections Canada will tool-up to deal with these and many more complaints.

Meanwhile, back in the House of Commons, the country was subjected to another painful and buffoonish spectacle. Conservative backbenchers and spokesmen on this issue, Dean Del Mastro and Pierre Poilievre, attacked the opposition indiscriminately with verbal Scud missile lobs. For his part, the NDP's Pat Martin is no better with his wild and unsubstantiated incendiary accusations and scorching rhetoric.

Surely, Canadians deserve better than this.

This is not a game and this is not Ottawa inside baseball. This is an incredibly serious matter that is of critical importance to the Canadian public. Bob Rae solemnly and correctly said that we are in "uncharted territory." Indeed we are.

Members of the House of Commons must take great care to exercise their fiduciary role in a responsible and measured fashion. This is not the time for partisan gamesmanship and political opportunism. We are at a very delicate moment in our history. The very integrity of our democracy may have been under attack. We must find out what happened. The national interest must unequivocally trump partisan interests. Every parliamentarian has a duty to Canada, first. They must methodically, soberly and honourably discharge their duty to the country and get to the bottom of this.

If they cannot bring themselves to doing that, the only way to get at the truth and to restore the faith that we must have in our electoral process is a full public inquiry.

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