I will be out of touch for most of the day, and if I’m lucky, by the time I get back to my computer this evening, the culprits will have been fully outed. (I’m not holding my breath, mind you.) In the meantime, thanks to the updates processed last night, the Sixth Estate Vote Suppression List now totals 68 ridings — more than one in five ridings across the country. My list is the largest on the Internet, including reports from all media and party sources. I also encourage anyone to submit stories of their own to SixthEstateCanada@gmail.com, either by name or anonymously.
In the meantime, I’d like to go over how this scheme must have worked. For the moment we can set aside who is responsible. I have my theories, and you have yours, and I’ll close with that. First of all, it’s important to differentiate between three types of calls, all of which have now been proved beyond doubt.
The first kind are what I would call mischief calls: live calls and robocalls by deliberately rude callers, at all hours of the night, targeting Jewish voters repeatedly during the Sabbath, etc. These are present in the vast majority of the ridings on the list, and with only one possible exception, all of the calls in question claimed to be from the Liberal Party. We don’t have to speculate much about the motivation for these calls: making the Liberal Party look bad in the run-up to the election would be to the benefit of other parties.
It’s easy to dismiss these in the light of the other allegations, but we shouldn’t do so. The pesky regulations requiring party operatives to identify themselves at the end of every campaign ad, etc., are there for a reason: they prohibit precisely this sort of shenanigans. If this were the only part of the scheme, it would still be disturbing. It would still be American. It would still be reprehensible. But the Conservatives probably would be able to laugh it off as “freedom of speech,” the same way they claim a right to bombard a riding with “opinion poll” calls informing them that their Liberal MP is a scoundrel and about to resign. That little scam, by the way, is under separate investigation.
The second part of the scheme involved a combination of live calls and robocallls, both of them informing voters that the voting locations had been switched at the last moment and directing them to new locations, almost invariably to ones that were on the other side of town, an hour’s drive away, etc. The live calls were allegedly sent by, among other places, workers at a Responsive Media Group call centre in Thunder Bay, ON.
The second set, the ones which have received most of the press, were an unknown number of robocalls sent out via, among other services, an outfit called Racknine in Alberta. Racknine is a service provider only; they probably had no more idea what was going out over their robodialling network than the desk officer at your ISP does that you’re reading Sixth Estate. In the case of the calls which went out to the Guelph riding, the arrangements were made by someone using a Quebec-registered cell phone identified by the unlikely name “Pierre Poutine” — apparently a riff on the name of an eatery in Guelph. Judging from the court filings, Elections Canada is pretty sure that the Guelph operation was done by a Conservative insider.
Although it seems like Elections Canada is closing on the Guelph operation, I must stress at this point that Guelph was not an isolated swindle. The large proportion of the ridings on my list are ones where misdirection robocalls are alleged to have gone out. That doesn’t mean that someone in the Guelph office couldn’t have been involved. It does mean, however, that they were only a bit player in a much wider conspiracy.
I have seen quite a number of comments by well-intentioned people suggesting that this doesn’t make for a very impressive scheme because, after all, everyone would have suffered equally. Not so. Every political party has a list of registered voters, which they supplement with massive information-gathering activities.
The Conservative Party’s system is widely reported to be the largest. Every time you write a Conservative MP, every time you respond to a poll arranged by the party or simply call for a ride to the polling station, that gets logged on your file in the database. That database is called CIMS, and it has a file on every one of us. Most are presumably empty files, but during the election, the party made millions of telephone calls to identify supporters and opponents. All of that went into CIMS. CIMS is actually online, but without a password, you won’t be able to have much fun with it. You can, however, peruse an old users’ guide recently leaked to the press. CIMS, or at least that version of CIMS, assigned every Canadian a score between -15 (rabid opponent of the party) and 15 (dedicated supporter).
Once the databases are involved, it’s a simple matter of sending out the robocalls only to the people you’ve identified as suspected opposition people, and sparing your own. Inevitably there will be some mistakes in such a process — which might be where Dean Del Mastro’s complaints come in — but in general, any system capable of getting you into mass contact with those you think are your friends (which is what the Conservatives freely admit their system can do) pretty much by definition can get you into mass contact with your suspected enemies just as easily.
It might not have been the Conservatives, of course. Pretty much by definition, the only organization with the resources and the motivation to pull off this fraud must be a political party. The only political party which has invested massive funds in both the surveillance database and the telemarketing structure necessary to pull off such a heist is the Conservative Party. And the Conservatives are also the only party whose present leadership has already been convicted of previous violations of the Elections Act.
The Opposition, and the progressive blogging community, is beginning to muse about by-elections. I would urge them not to do so. The first and only priority of the country at this point must be identifying what happened and who did it. Demanding by-elections before we know what went wrong with the first poll only means that those responsible will be left free to work their mischief a second time. We don’t have time to talk about by-elections right now.
And then, we must subject them to the full force of law and of public opinion. We’re treading into truly disturbing territory here, regardless of what party was involved. Intentionally accomplishing this task in multiple ridings, rather than just Guelph, would mean creating essentially a shadow campaign team, one specifically intended to run the phone ops. There are plenty of partisans without a shred of moral sense in the Conservative Party, but there are also plenty of people who think they’re doing right by their country. If you’re planning a criminal enterprise, you have to keep it separate from that second group to make sure word doesn’t leak.
That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, mind you. Over the past year, there has been a second cover-up. Even if the Harper brain trust wasn’t in on the original robocall scheme, as soon as scattered reports of the scheme surfaced last spring, you can be sure they would have had someone trusted get involved and get to the bottom of it, so they would be able to contain the outcry if word ever leaked. So they have certainly had a pretty good idea what happened for almost a year now, even if they weren’t involved to begin with, and they’ve been quietly sitting on that information since the election.
There is a scheme in this mess somewhere. I just wish I could see what it was.Tweet