In case you haven’t heard yet, the Conservatives have apparently decided to double down on their shadowy robocall schemes by putting out an allegedly bogus push-poll telling Saskatchewan residents that the new riding boundaries being drawn in that province are going to screw good Saskatchewan residents out of their democratic vote (as if). Naturally, a naked attempt at laying a pretext for gerrymandering isn’t enough: they have to engage in shady PR tactics to do it.
This is not the first time the Conservatives were caught conducting shady push-polling. This time, the calls were sent out under what is, according to press reports, at best a shell company with the name of “Chase Research,” at worst a totally fictitious corporate entity. (In fairness, it could be neither, and the media is simply wrong. Whoever set up the calls is presumably intelligent enough to register the name and file the appropriate paperwork so that it isn’t a total sham.) And Conservative spokesman Fred DeLorey said: nope, not us. Chase Research isn’t us. We’re the Conservative Party. We’re not calling Saskatchewan residents telling him that the riding boundary commission is trying to disenfranchise them.
Except that more evidence surfaced, or someone got ahold of a decent source for a change, and all of a sudden, DeLorey says, yep, that was us after all. He wasn’t lying when he denied that the governing party was doing this last week. Nope: he was “miscommunicating.” Whatever that means.
What’s even more disturbing about the fact that the Conservatives lied about the fact that they’re doing push-polling in Saskatchewan is why they’re doing the push-polling in the first place. The Conservative Party has come out officially against the recommendations of the non-partisan, non-political commission struck to redraw the boundaries between federal ridings in that province. There are commissions doing the same work in every province right now; it’s a regular 10-year update process that shifts around the boundaries based on the last census to make sure each riding has a reasonably equitable number of voters in it.
Now, for obvious reasons, it should be axiomatic in a democracy that political parties play no part in this process. When they do, and when it’s done in an attempt to redraw the boundaries in their own interest to garner more seats, that’s called gerrymandering. It’s the sort of corruption one associates with 19th-century Britain. Or Republicans in the American Deep South. And, apparently, Conservatives in Canada. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that if the Conservatives claim there’s a monstrous injustice in the Saskatchewan redistricting commission report, it’s because they think it might cost them seats in the next election.
And I suppose it might. The main recommendation in Saskatchewan is moving towards more homogeneous ridings — urban ridings and rural ridings — instead of the system the province currently has, in which many ridings have a small wedge of either Regina or Saskatoon, plus a huge swathe of countryside. There are arguments for and against — these split ridings make it hard for MPs to represent their constituents’ interests properly, but it does mean that the big cities effectively get more MPs than they deserve, which makes the mayors happy. It’s a safe bet that if the Conservatives are angry, it’s because their polling has alerted them to the fact that either the new urban ridings or the new rural ones are unlikely to go Conservative in the next election.
This raises another disturbing question. That explains why the Conservatives would be unhappy about the redistricting report. It doesn’t explain why they’d engage in a push-poll over the matter, and then lie about the fact that they were running one.
Here’s my theory. Although in theory the redistricting reports are non-partisan, once the commission is done with them, the reports go to a Parliamentary committee for review. In theory that review should be done in a spirit of objectivity, but there’s no guarantee of that, and with this government’s penchant for sending committees into secret hearings behind closed doors, there’s not even a guarantee that we’d know about if it if they weren’t being as objective as they should be. However, if they’re going to overturn a non-partisan boundary commission and move the riding boundaries into a position that will maximize benefit to the Conservative Party, they can’t say so publicly. They’ll need to provide a different explanation — a pretext.
This push-poll is part of the plan to provide the pretext. The Conservatives claim that the overwhelming majority of the people in the province oppose the changes — which, depending on how they worded their questions, might well have been the case. (My guess: almost nobody in Saskatchewan, or anywhere else for that matter, has carefully inspected the proposed boundary changes in their region and has an informed opinion on the subject, making them very susceptible to leading questions in a push-poll.) They hope to use this alleged groundswell of public outrage, which they’ve conveniently astroturfed for themselves, to rationalize rejecting the new riding boundary proposals, and substituting in their place some boundaries that are more to their liking. In other words, gerrymandering.
The next question becomes: is this unique to Saskatchewan, or do the Conservatives plan to run this little scheme for other provinces’ redistricting commissions, too?Tweet