I have been completely stunned by the Conservatives' reactions to the ever growing robocall election fraud scandal.
With the corruption of Adscam, the Conservatives demanded a judicial inquiry into the financial fraud perpetrated by the Liberal party in Quebec on a daily basis until the Gomery Inquiry was called. And I agreed with them.
In this case of election fraud, the Conservatives are changing their tune daily as Chantal Hébert noted in a recent column. The Conservative twisting and turning appears desperate in the daily changing of response -- and it begins to sound more and more like Watergate every day.
The only acceptable response is: "Election fraud violates our constitutional right to free and fair elections. It violates Canada's election law. It erodes Canadians' faith in our democracy. It is completely unacceptable. Canadians have a right to know exactly what occurred. And only a judicial inquiry with the power to subpoena anyone and compel witnesses to testify will expose what happened."
Some national media commentary asks whether the Conservatives might get away with this and whether their failure to call a judicial inquiry will hurt their standing with Canadians. Pollster Nik Nanos believes that the scandal is just reinforcing existing prejudices, with Conservatives supporters unconcerned. By contrast Frank Graves of EKOS warns that this issue could be "catastrophic" for Conservatives.
I find this debate itself deeply offensive. Since when is democracy debatable? Since when is electoral corruption not a concern for all parties? Since when would electoral fraud go uninvestigated with all findings not made public?
In the 2006 election, campaigning on accountability and transparency in government, Harper said: "There's going to be a new code on Parliament Hill. Bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison."
The failure of the Conservatives to now make unequivocal statements like this, and to ensure that there is a full, transparent investigation to uncover the source of the electoral fraud in the 2011 election will ultimately prove corrosive to Conservatives -- just as Watergate proved corrosive to Republicans and Adscam fatal to the Liberals.
If you think this is having no impact on right-wing politics in Canada think again: This story was broken by Stephen Maher of Postmedia News and Ottawa Citizen reporter Glen McGregor and kudos to them. McGregor and Maher are part of the Postmedia network -- the most right-wing mainstream national network of newspapers.
And from Preston Manning: "The patriarch of the current Conservative movement in Canada, says the robocall vote-suppression scandal that's rocking Canadian politics is 'deplorable.'"
This scandal is deeply corrosive the very fabric of Canada. What is more fundamental than faith in our democracy? Faith in our basic fundamental institutions, such as free and fair elections?
Only a Judicial Inquiry is Acceptable as a Response
I had to laugh when in the House of Commons Prime Minister Harper urged MPs to turn over any information they had about fraudulent election calls to Elections Canada. You see, every Elections Canada investigation is conducted in complete secrecy. Working with the RCMP, Elections Canada normally doesn't comment on ongoing investigations and the only information that ever comes out is when an action goes to court and documents become public through legal proceedings. So Harper was really saying: "Give all your evidence to Elections Canada which will keep it a lock box so Canadians never learn about what happened."
The House of Commons passed a motion on March 12 increasing Elections Canada's power so it can compel political parties to turn over records to aid in the investigation. While I agree completely with this, the fact still remains Canadians will never know the majority of what Elections Canada uncovers.
In fact, the only reason this election fraud story broke in the first place, is Maher and McGregor used Freedom of Information requests to access legal documents on the investigation.
If Harper does not call an independent judicial inquiry I predict that it will breed a new form of fierce resistance we have never seen before in Canadian politics. It will serve as the catalyst to force electoral cooperation among the opposition parties and galvanize a new electoral approach in Canada.
"We get the behaviour we tolerate" is a powerful truth. If this election fraud is not rooted out, no opposition party will trust the Conservatives to honour the law in future elections. Failure to expose this fraud is to accept and condone it. The resulting erosion of trust will fuel an electoral accommodation in targeted swing ridings. It will be the very thing that brings all opposition parties to work together to defeat Harper.
And finally there is the judicial route. Lawyer Peter Rosenthal has fought a legal case on election law all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada and won -- requiring changes to the Canada Elections Act. Rosenthal points out that any elector or candidate may challenge the results in a riding if irregularities, fraud or corrupt or illegal practices affected the outcome by application to a superior court.
A court has the power to subpoena witnesses and the proceedings create a public record of wrongdoings. If the Conservatives fail in their duty to call a judicial inquiry this will be the route, no doubt, that incensed Canadians take.
The opposition parties will not let this go. The media will not let this go. Canadians will not let this go. The truth will come out.