Robocalls: another blow to the brand

Last week, Federal Court judge Richard Mosley handed down his decision in a lawsuit led by the Council of Canadians against the Conservative Party of Canada, in the so-called robocalls case.

Last week, Federal Court judge Richard Mosley handed down his decision in a lawsuit led by the Council of Canadians against the Conservative Party of Canada, in the so-called robocalls case. Though he found that there was an attempt by someone to subvert the last federal election by preventing non-Conservatives from voting, evidence that the attempt succeeded was inconclusive. After the decision was made public, Yukon MP Ryan Leef told reporters he felt vindicated.

The Concise Oxford defines vindicate as “clear of blame or suspicion.” Leef finds vindication in Mosley’s ruling that, although somebody with access to closely-guarded Conservative Party records attempted election fraud on their behalf, there was no proof that the attempt succeeded, or that candidates or their agents were directly involved in the crime.

Let us pause for a moment to admire Mr. Leef’s capacity for self-vindication. Judge Mosley found that somebody used the CIMS database – accessible only by a tightly-controlled Conservative inner circle – to prevent voters from reaching the polls, after they had identified themselves to party canvassers as non-supporters. In the Yukon, survey data indicates that 36 per cent of all voters received robocalls intended to direct them to the wrong polling station. As a measure of comparison, Leef’s share of the vote was 32.7 per cent.

When the robocalls story broke, the Conservatives went into full lock-down mode, doing everything in their power to prevent the facts from coming out. This Tuesday Marc Meyrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer, told the House of Commons procedure and House affairs committee that the Conservatives took three months to respond to an initial request for facts surrounding the case. Meyrand later pointed to a pattern of Conservative Party workers either refusing to co-operate with his investigation, or agreeing to interviews and then canceling at the last minute.

In his judgment Mosley observed a similar pattern, complaining that “the stance taken by the respondent MPs from the outset was to block these proceedings by any means.” It began when lawyers for Leef and his fellow defendants tried to stop the trial before it began with a motion that the suit was “frivolous and contemptuous.” They tried repeatedly to have the case thrown out on such obscure and inapplicable grounds as “champerty and maintenance” and asserted that it would “interfere with the case timetable” to ask Elections Canada for details behind 800 complaints of fraudulent calls.

This week the Hill Times is reporting that Conservative caucus members are feeling “horrifically depressed” about the other big Conservative scandal in the news this week, the Senate expenses cover-up. According to an anonymous insider, “It’s hurting the government, it’s a distraction. It’s hurting the Conservative brand and the party more than the government because it’s a fundamental to who we are as Conservatives. It’s a blow to the brand because we actually care. We came to Ottawa to fix this.”

There is a mystery here. We know that the members of the Conservative caucus are so sensitive as to be driven to horrific depression over the cover-up of a case of expense-fudging. How do they preserve their mental health in the face of news that their party is implicated in massive election fraud?

Is Mike Duffy’s creative accounting really a bigger distraction than the attempt to steal a general election? Isn’t tampering with the vote as much of a blow to the brand as writing questionable cheques? Or is it that in this case, they don’t actually care?

In the aftermath of Mosley’s ruling, Leef told the Yukon News, “I was really clear when this all broke that I didn’t think that this case was going to answer the questions that Canadians deserve answers to.” Could this be because he knew that the Conservative Party would use all of its power to block the facts of the case from coming to light? As Leef went on to say, “Here we sit, a full year later, having the exact same questions we had when this was first undertaken.”

What he didn’t say is that his party is sitting on the answers.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.