Smoke and mirrors
// Samantha Thompson

“There is nothing more pleasurable to a political animal than causing pain to an opponent. Politicians would forgo heaven for their friends, on guarantee they could send their enemies to hell.”

—Rex Murphy

When it was announced that the first conviction had been doled out to a culprit of the Stanley Cup riots, people rejoiced. “Finally,” they said, “justice is served.” Yet when the story broke early last week suggesting that the last federal election had been littered with fraud, it was labelled as “typical dirty politics” instead of what it actually was – illegal.

“This is simply a smear campaign, with no basis at all,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons on Feb. 29. He was referring to the accusation against the Conservative party stating that they were responsible for a series of “robocalls” during the last Federal election.

The phone calls were made to potential voters at ungodly hours of the night, asking if the residents would be voting for the Liberal or NDP candidate in that riding. In some circumstances, the caller impersonated Elections Canada and told the would-be voter that their polling station had been moved.

The Conservatives began arguing that the whole situation was naught but a smear campaign hosted by a bunch of “sore losers”. They suggested that there was not enough evidence to support these claims – while voters from at least 38 ridings were simultaneously calling to say they were victims of these robocalls.

On March 1, they stopped trying to deflect questions and instead began trying to put the blame on the Liberal party. The Conservatives claimed that the Liberals had been using a phone company in North Dakota to make these calls, but the NDP was quick to point out that there were two companies, the other one in Canada, who were unrelated but had similar names. The Conservatives had gotten their facts wrong. Liberal MP Frank Vaeriote told CBC that “it is ridiculous to think that Liberals would try and suppress their own voters from coming out to vote.”

The robocall issue is going to be on the table for a while, particularly as Elections Canada decides how much they are going to investigate. In the meantime, nearly 40,000 Canadians have signed an online petition demanding that a full public inquiry is conducted. Although many MPs have also expressed their anger and frustration regarding various facets of the scandal, we still don’t know precisely what happened.

People are angry, and with just cause. Regardless of what Harper may argue in Parliament, there are thousands of Canadians who are reporting that they received misleading phone calls during election time. Something is going on, but the only way we’re going to find out is if the authorities take charge. Instead of initiating a rapid inquiry, as Rex Murphy pointed out on CBC’s The National, “Mr. Harper is wearing his injured, angry face.”

Canadian politics have been anything but quiet as of late. On top of robocalls, Bob Rae announced that it had been a Liberal staffer behind the “Vikileaks” Twitter account. Although Rae also apologized on behalf of the staffer and of the Liberals, the Conservatives have resurfaced the issue, alleging that the Liberals have hung their staff member “out to dry” and are “sitting on a lot of details.” They’ve threatened to take further action if the Liberals do not share the details that they are allegedly withholding. Rae has correctly accused the Conservatives of using Vikileaks to distract public attention away from the election scandal.

Let me be clear: there is absolutely no similarity between Vikileaks and the robocalls. One was done to make a point, although it arguably could have been handled more professionally. There is nothing illegal about the Twitter feed – it was reporting information that was available in public court documents. The only line it may have crossed is if the tweets were sent from a House of Commons computer, as the House’s computers are not allowed to be used for harassment. However, the robocalls are election fraud, and thus, illegal.

Politicians need to be held responsible for their actions, just like everyone else. They should not have any special privilege that means they can commit illegal acts and escape with a mere slap on the wrist. They are Canadian citizens, and should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law – after all, as politicians, they are not gifted amnesty. The robocalls affected peoples’ ability to vote, and no one should be be allowed to take away that most fundamental right that is the basis of democracy. Regardless of the outcome, this event is going to forever change the Canadian political landscape.

Politics are integral to the way we live in Canada. Certainly, they can be trying at times, but that is no reason to ignore them altogether. We are able to celebrate someone being punished for destroying physical property, but yet are only mildly irritated by the robocalls. This can’t be reduced to dirty politics – what has happened has polluted the waters of our democracy.

As Rick Mercer aptly pointed out, “We have always agreed that voting is a fundamental right. This is not a left or a right thing, this is just a thing. If we don’t believe in that, what else do we have to believe in?”

We can’t wait around while people point fingers, or whilst the Conservatives try to distract us with other, unrelated issues. Democracy has been tampered with, and those responsible need to be tried as citizens of Canada, not as politicians with special privileges. It is the only fair way to move forward.

//Samantha Thompson, editor-in-chief
//Author illustration

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