The widening "robocall scandal" is deeply disturbing -- as is its media coverage.
The language we use to describe a situation, the words that a journalist uses in their coverage of an issue, literally frame the issue and how we think about it.
This isn't a story about "dirty tricks," it's about election fraud. This isn't "stupid," it's illegal. This isn't "folly," it was a deliberate, systematic, strategic, targeted campaign to steal the election. This isn't "voter suppression," it's stealing democracy.
We should not treat this as some petty misdemeanor. This is a grave threat to our very basic freedom. This is a threat to our democracy. This is corruption.
You would expect this in some tin-pot dictatorship--not in Canada.
The stakes are much, much higher than most people or commentators realize. Harper won his "majority" with 6,848 votes. That's the difference between a Conservative candidate getting elected and the second place candidate in the 14 closest races that the Conservatives "won."
For instance, in Nipissing-Timiskaming the Conservatives "won" the riding with a mere 18 votes. In Etobicoke Centre it was just 26 votes. Out of the 14.7 million votes cast across Canada that is an infinitesimally small margin for a majority -- it's 0.048 per cent.
What was the exact nature of the illegality? Liberal supporters in tightly fought ridings received pre-recorded messages on Election Day claiming to be from Elections Canada telling them that the location of their polling station had been changed. The Liberals claim it was a factor in losing 27 seats. The NDP is claiming it happened to them too. The Conservatives didn't need to misdirect very many voters in very many ridings with tight races to steal the 2011 election.
What is the impact of this illegal action? With a "majority" Harper has eliminated the gun registry. He has appointed 48 Conservative so far in the 105 seat Senate, and four of the nine Supreme Court of Canada justices. This issue is not just about some inconvenient phone calls, it's about subverting our democracy, it's about altering the outcome of the election. And it's about Harper remaking Canada in his own image.
This is the heart of the real story: It's about the Conservative's usurping the power of government.
There are a few important points to make about this scandal:
The Conservatives have proven they will happily break the law to win power
The Conservatives pleaded guilty to breaking campaign spending laws in 2006 in the election that brought Harper to power. The Conservative party violated election spending limits, exceeding the amount the party was allowed to spend by $1.3 million -- through an "in-and-out" scheme.
In the end the Conservatives pled guilty and got a $52,000 fine.
There was no appropriate consequence for the Conservatives breaking Canada's election law. The fine is a joke. The Conservatives spent $1.3 million more than allowed to by law, "won" the election, and paid a penalty of $52,000. The reward: gaining access to the levers of power and deciding how to spend the Government of Canada's $270.5 billion budget.
The case took five years to be resolved. By this time the Conservatives had been in power for five years and had appointed 48 Conservatives to the Senate.
The Conservatives strategy is clear: break the law, deny any wrong doing, frustrate and stall any investigation -- whether by Elections Canada or House of Commons committee -- and when the final decision is about to be rendered, plea bargain and pay a fine.
But here's the realpolitik of it: It's five years after the fact, the media isn't paying attention. It's been covered already. Meanwhile the Conservatives have been enjoying power for five years. The consequences are, well, inconsequential.
The electoral fraud efforts were part of a systemic Conservative strategy
The Conservatives are trying to claim that a single individual, Michael Sona, was responsible. Sona has worked for Conservative candidates, for a Conservative MP, and for a Minister in the Harper Government. He is not some uniformed, neophyte newbie. He is, however, the sacrifice the Conservatives are more than willing to offer to try and put this illegal action to bed. So Sona was fired last week from his position in Conservative MP Eve Adam's office.
Harper's style is one of systematic command and control. No messaging, no strategy, is executed without the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) vetting and approving it. This has become crystal clear during Harper's tenure. Lawrence Martin's book Harperland documents this in detail.
Young Sona, having worked for a so many different Harper Conservatives would have had this drilled into him. The fact that it has taken Elections Canada and the RCMP almost a year -- with their powers to investigate -- to uncover this scheme shows to what great length the Conservatives went to to hide this.
The consequences for this electoral fraud should match the crime: Criminal charges should be laid and by-elections called for every riding where electoral fraud occurred. Any person or firm involved should be barred from working in any election campaign ever again.
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