Allegations of fraud, sleaze a turnoff to voters

Robocall - élection fédérale du 2 mai 2011 volée

Prime Minister Stephen Harper parried allegations from the opposition during Question Period on Tuesday.

Tim Harper - OTTAWA—Pierre Poutine from Separatist Street?
Why not toss a disposable cellphone registered to this fictional character into the toxic mess playing into the nation’s capital?
It played perfectly into the tenor of debate over the past couple of days, climaxed by a Tuesday Question Period dust-up over alleged election fraud in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper merely parried allegations of sleaze from the opposition benches by tossing their sleaze back at them.
It’s quite an appealing picture — previously anonymous Twitter details of a cabinet minister’s divorce, robo-calls by the NDP aimed at an MP who defected to the Liberals and sanctimonious stonewalling on the government side.
There may have been orchestrated vote suppression last spring, but there’s a lot of vote suppression going on here every day.
This country already has a problem with voter engagement, fuelled by an overriding view among many Canadians that their votes don’t count, that all politicians are the same, that they all play dirty.
They see broken promises, juvenile name-calling in the House of Commons and hyper partisanship trumping reasoned debate and hit the remote.
Three things have to happen, and happen quickly, before we all must gird ourselves for an even more disengaged electorate and a voter turnout in 2015 that could convulse the nation.
First, Canadians have to get angry.
When the Conservatives twice shut down this place there were sporadic protests and rallies packed with opposition operatives, but most Canadians couldn’t spell prorogue, let alone care about the ramifications.
When they were found to have violated Elections Canada spending rules in the so-called “in-and-out” case, Canadians not only yawned, they couldn’t understand the accounting skullduggery.
When they were found in contempt of Parliament, Conservative strategists boldly stated that a breach of an arcane rule would make no difference to voters, and they were right.
When they booted unfriendlies from their campaign rallies, limited journalists to a set number of questions and used supporters to boo the questions they didn’t like, the nation shrugged.
But, if there was a concerted effort to disenfranchise voters, this country can no longer shrug, or it deserves what it gets.
For a little inspiration, look to the women of the Responsive Marketing Group call centre in Thunder Bay whose stories were told by the Star’s Tonda MacCharles.
They have no dog in this fight, no political agenda, but they had a conscience and they felt they were doing something wrong, sending voters to the wrong polling stations on election day.
They went to the RCMP and Elections Canada and were largely met with indifference.
That shows why the second thing that must happen is the establishment of an independent, transparent inquiry to disentangle the various tentacles of this story.
If there is culpability, there must be accountability.
The Conservatives claim they were only targeting their own voters with their robo-calls and scripted calls.
They point out that 127 polling locations were changed by Elections Canada in the days before the May 2 vote.
“We have done absolutely nothing wrong,” said Dean Del Mastro, Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, a blanket denial that screams out to be tested.
There are too many questions to limit this to a riding in Guelph or a call centre in Thunder Bay or a robo-call centre in Edmonton.
To dismiss these allegations as “shenanigans,” as one Conservative did in a conversation with The Globe and Mail, is to insult the Canadian voter.
Tuesday, Harper predictably turned the tables on Bob Rae, taunting him on the Vikileaks firing each time the interim Liberal leader raised the election fraud allegations.
The fact that he had the Vikileaks ammunition should serve as a wakeup call for anyone armed with social media, a robo-caller or a sympathetic journalistic ear and a score to settle.
That’s the third imperative — this type politics of personal destruction has to end.
If the high road is too high to be scaled, maybe it is best to appeal to the more base partisan instincts at play.
The old adage holds true — you play in the mud, you (and your party) gets dirty.
If Canadians don’t get angry, demand an independent probe and an end to the sleaze in this town, we’ll all be looking back at the 61.1 per cent voter turnout of 2011 as the golden age of Canadian democracy.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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