12/13/2011 06:11 EST | Updated 02/12/2012 05:12 EST

You Can Still Be Wrong Without Breaking the Rules


Speaker Andrew Scheer has delivered his ruling on the Conservative Party's attempts to undermine Irwin Cotler in his riding of Mont Royal. The ruling Scheer presented today referred to the organized telephone contact program conducted on behalf of the Conservatives in Cotler's riding. The questions in this survey left the impression that Cotler might be leaving politics in the near future. This ruling certainly highlights the fine line between right and wrong in modern Canadian politics.

The problem with this type of ruling is that it is very narrow and focuses on legal interpretations and precedents as opposed to common sense. The Speaker is left little room to manoeuvre and this was noted by the Speaker himself when he stated, "The Speaker's powers in these matters are limited, as my predecessors have repeatedly stated."

Common sense tells Canadians that what the Conservatives did was wrong. Common sense says that they had an opportunity to admit the wrong and move on, but they blew that opportunity.

No one except perhaps Peter Van Loan believes the Conservative defensive talk point that this is about free speech.

There isn't much in this story that would allow one to link this campaign directly back to the Prime Minister's Office, or even the Conservative Research Group, as Scheer noted that, "It does not matter that the resources of the House of Commons itself were not used to carry out this particular campaign."

I can't see any staff member in PMO signing off on something like this because part of your job is to protect the interests of the Prime Minister. Getting involved in a risky activity which common sense should tell you could blow up in your face would be a career limiting move and certainly expose the Prime Minister to attack.

Were the questions torqued or asked incorrectly by those making the calls? We don't know the answer to that point as the Conservatives but up their usual stonewall defence.

Interesting questions will remain unanswered such as what was their sign off procedure for this polling? Who gave the order to carry it out? Who wrote the questions? My experience with polling companies is limited, but I have found they don't make up questions on their own, but either use those supplied by the client or work to come up with a question that their client agrees too.

When this story broke, the Conservative's had three options.

1. Admit someone did it without authorization and throw that person under the bus.

2. Admit someone did it and that it was wrong and a dumb thing to do.

3. Stand and defend the undefendable.

Needless to say they chose number three and a story that might have been over fairly quickly has dragged on for weeks now. And with each passing week the Conservatives look worse in the public eye and voters have another reason to be more cynical about Canadian politics.

While today's ruling means that the Conservatives didn't break the rules of the House of Commons, perhaps Speaker Scheer said it best when he stated, "I am sure that all reasonable people would agree that attempting to sow confusion in the minds of voters as to whether or not their Member is about to resign is a reprehensible tactic..."