The more cynical readers of this blog will doubtless be unsurprised, but I think that the recent shambles of a “public consultation” embarked upon by Elections Canada is strong evidence that the organizations is conceding its investigation into the 2011 election robocalls, does not intend ever to charge someone with vote suppression (least of all the individual behind “Pierre Poutine”), and instead plans to engage in a grand exercise in theatrical arm-waving in the hopes that public opinion in the agency’s demonstrably negligible capacity to regulate Canadian elections will be restored.
Elections Canada is working towards what will supposedly be a Grand Report on the issue of electrion fraud tabled in the spring. To that end, it’s engaging in public consultations with respect to a draft report proposing some tweaking to the electoral accountability laws. We’ll get to those tweaks momentarily.
The fact that Elections Canada seems to think we’ve progressed from the “investigation” phase of the robocalls file to the “lessons learned” stage, as symbolized in this new policy paper, tells us all we need to know about the agency’s investigation of the robocalls. There was an investigation — we know there was — but it was under-resourced and consequently slow and ineffectual. If Elections Canada expected this to end in formal charges being laid, we’d have to have another round of “lessons learned” reports, and policy proposals, to close off whatever schemes would have been identified over the course of the investigation. It’s unlikely Elections Canada plans to engage in two such rounds of consultations. This is it. Consequently, whoever did commit electoral fraud in 2011 has definitively gotten away with it. Unless they decide to come forward themselves, for some reason, which seems unlikely.
With regard to the consultations, Hill Times reports that Elections Canada has retained a polling firm to do a survey of Canadians’ opinions about political practices, at a cost of $45,000, which sounds utterly pointless to me (what possibly useful results would a survey provide to Elections Canada?). It’s also going to have the right-wing but nonpartisan Institute for Research on Public Policy do a roundtable conference on the subject.
That makes sense. Aside from being one of Canada’s oldest and most well-regarded neoliberal think tanks, the IRPP has a great deal of experience with respect to studying political practices. Its president, Graham Fox, describes himself in his official bio as a former Ontario political candidate, an advisor to Joe Clark and Hugh Segal; he’s also a former secretary to Stephen Harper’s transition team. A year ago, IRPP was given a contract by Harper’s own ministry, the Privy Council Office, on the “political agitation” which resulted in the NDP surge in Quebec in May 2011. I can think of no better group to handle Elections Canada’s little focus group exercise.
Which brings us, at last to the vaunted discussion paper, which bears the exciting and thought-provoking title “Issues Arising from Improper Telecommunications with Electors.” During the 2011 election, Elections Canada claims, an “individual” who was “associated” with “a campaign office” — absurdly, they don’t mention which campaign office — ordered 7676 calls made into Guelph falsely proclaiming themselves to be from Elections Canada announcing a polling station change. Previously filed court documents reveal what is not mentioned in the public report: that the campaign office in question belonged to the Conservative Party, and that the list used to generate those calls was taken from the Conservative Party’s internal database of suspected opposition voters (aka Liberal and NDP supporters). I guess Elections Canada felt these details had no place in a public report. Needless to say, the omission of such details raises severe questions about the integrity of this report as a whole.
Next, Elections Canada reviews some of the “challenges faced” by its investigators, which I take to be read as “reasons why this investigation will never be completed.” The first two are monstrous red herrings: that there appear to be “no written contracts” between political parties and their exclusive telemarkters, and that the financial reports routinely filed by candidates come in too late, and are not detailed enough, to assist an investigation. As I say, these are red herrings. Elections Canada investigators evidently had no difficulty ascertaining that the Conservative Party had an exclusivity contract with its robocall provider (which required “Pierre Poutine” to convincingly pass himself off as a Conservative insider when he placed the Guelph order). Moreover, no one reported the Poutine calls on any public candidate’s expense filing. No one would ever do so. It’s preposterous to think this would be at all applicable.
Elections Canada also complains about the use of various “technological means of anonymity” which “Poutine” used to conceal his identity, the lack of long-term data retention by Internet Service Providers, and, most hilariously of all, it complains that because its investigation warrants were eventually made public by the courts, there was an “influx of complaints and reactions in February 2012″ and “the reputation of individuals and entities may have been negatively impacted.” So nice to see they’ve maintained a sense of perspective here.
On that cheerful note, Elections Canada moves on to their proposals for legal reforms. These are prefaced by a truly asinine disclaimer that “legal prohibitions… are of little impact on those determined to operate outside the law.” Yeah! Why have electoral regulations at all? Mainly for “deterrent value,” says Elections Canada. I’ll take a look at that in my next post, on the proposed reforms.Tweet