Sorry, just sorting out some technical difficulties. We'll begin shortly.
Hi, everyone. Sorry, we'll have to delay the discussion until 1:30. We'll be online then. Thanks for your understanding.
Hello everyone. John ibbitson here. So sorry for the delay. But I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions on this fascinating issue.
We're ready to start now. Lots of questions from readers.
The Conservatives have spoken about this outside the House. Peter MacKay seemed to suggest that the staffer who quit last week was somehow connected with the irregularities in Guelph, though that former staffer stoutly denies it.
But yes, lockdown mode is a good description.
It will stick if one of two things happens: 1) Direct evidence emerges tying party operatives to alleged efforts to impersonate Elections Canada officials in order to send voters to non-existent polls. The Tories are adamant no such thing happened. If it did, they will be in serious trouble.
The second thing that would cause it to stick would be if it is time. That is, people grow tired of governments eventually, and an accumulation of grievances reaches a tipping point. One controversy, any controversy, can be that tipping point. Myself, I don't think the Conservatives are there yet; this is still a relatively young government--six years in all. But you never know.
Regarding Irwin Cotler's riding, there's a distinction. The Conservative acknowledge contacting voters and speculating that Mr. Cotler might step down. Mr. Cotler hotly denies that, but that speculation was out there. The Speaker called the Tory tactics 'reprehensible." But they're legal. Impersonating an Elections Canada official is not. That is a big difference.
Per KDR1979, how do the Liberal and Conservative strategies compare?
Well it's important to remember the consequences of those strategies. Paul Martin was determined to distance himself from the sponsorship scandal, so he established a public inquiry. It turned into a circus, and caused the Liberals irreperable harm. They are still living with the consequences in Quebec, and elsewhere. That is why you will never, ever see a public inquiry into this.
Many readers are wondering about a possible inquiry:
The Tory stragegy, in contrast, is to deny any involvement and invite Elections Canada and the RCMP to do their job. Very Jean Chretien, if I might say.
Mr. Harper would only call a public inquiry if the scandal reaches such proportions that the very ability of the government to carry on came into question. I think a dispassionate analysis of the situation suggest that is very unlikely.
If the Commissioner for Canada Elections, who is an officer within Elections Canda, concludes that the Elections Act has been violated through fraud or other grave abuse of the electoral process, he would take that finding to the Office of Public Prosecutions, which would lay a charge. That's Step One.
Step Two would involve an elector in a riding--anyone can do it--taking that evidence to a judge and asking to have the election result nullified. That's Step Two.
If the judge found that there had been abuse sufficient to bring the outcome of the result in that riding into question--so, abuse involving one vote when the candidate won by 10,000 votes wouldn't count, but abuse involving hundreds of votes when the candidate won by onlya dozen would, then the judge would nullify the result of the election.. That's Step Three.
But that finding could--and almost certainly would--be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. That's Step Four.
If the Supreme Court upheld the ruling, then the court would nofify the Speaker of the House of Commons, who would declare the seat vacant, thus requiring a by-election.
That's the final step. It could take years to get there.
Why are the allegations emerging now? If you're a Tory, you might allege false memory syndome. If you're the opposition you would say people had shrugged off the incident back on election day, and only now are people realizing there was a pattern of abuse.
Ironically, there were reports of exactly this sort of abuse directly after election that the Globe and other reported on it. But then we sort of forgot about it while waiting for Elections Canada to figure it out. Only when Postmedia revealed detailed allegations of abuse in the riding of Guelph did we all take the issue up again.
These investigations have been going on since election day last year, correct?
Regarding how hard it is to decipher, one way to approach it might be this: Figure out placed the fraudulent Elections Canada calls in Guelph, how they get their hands on a data base. if we can answer that, then we can determine whether it was an isolated case or part of a larger pattern.
Correct, Chris. Though Elections Canada is very tight-lipped about what it is investigating. Often, if there are no charges, it never reports the results of the investigation.
Another question following on that:
I have no reason to believe that Elections Canada is unable or unwilling to carry out its mandate. It has laid several charges in recent years, including one against the Conservatives on the in-and-out election financing scheme that the Tories ultimately pleaded guilty to.
Good questions. Those who were contacted appear to have been previously identified as Liberal supporters, at least in Guelph. That suggests a data base, as does the fact that they used robocalls rather than a live person. But you shouldn't leap to any conclusion that it was Conservative operatives using a Conservative data base. The PM is emphatic that that didn't happen. I don't believe Stephen Harper would lie. Outright lying is something I have almost never seen in a politician of any stripe. The consequences of being caught in one can be very, very painful. Ask Bill Clinton.
Great question. I don't think you can insist on having information about yourself removed from a data base that is privately held. But I'm just guessing on that one.
I agree, R Brown. There is no reason for the Conservatives to call an inquiry at this point. There is no direct evidence that anyone in a position of authority did anything illegal. Besides, the optics of a pivot at this point would almost in and of itself admit guilt. Either way, chances of a public inquiry are next to nil.
If that were the case, Mark A., they would bring back C-30, the Internet privacy legislation. Imposing closure on it, for example, woudl get no end of attention. But it generally isn't a good idea to divert attention from one controvery by bringing up another. Instead, they may simply write March off, and hope that the March 29 budget changes the channel.
The next election isn't until autum 2015, Mr McGuire. There will be much water and many bridges between now and then. I just don't think we can predict what voters will be thinking that far out.
I think it suggests a certain readership is engaged in the issue. People who are actively interested in politics, who follow it closely online, and who want to participate in the national disucssion on public issues are seized with this issue in a way I don't think I've seen before, outside an election. Does the broader public care? My hunch is that they do, and that this will be like the January 2010 prorogation. The Tories thought nobody would notice, but not only did they notice, the government took a huge hit in the polls. They bounced back later, though. So the question might be, not whether people are paying attention, but whether they will continue paying attention even if there is no real answer to the key questions for months or even years. That i have no answer to.
I suppose the question is: what relationship does the handling of these allegations have with how our government is run?
There is a dichotomy between policy and politics. No, not dichotomy, for the two are intimately linked, and the play between the two is the great game of political journalism. I for one believe that our public institutions remain robust, and that much of what people consider the debasement of the public square is really the surrendering of that square by elites to a broader constituency. My friend Andrew Coyne of Postmedia takes the opposit view.
I believe that certain elites--politicians, journalists, academics, cultural and business leaders--traditionally controlled debate in matters of public policy, largely operating through consensus. But for several decades, what Michael Bliss called "the decline of deference" has pushed open the doors, as citizens demanded more of a voice when great matters of public policy were debated. The arrival of first the Internet and then of social media accelerated that process. What we are doing right now is, I think, one example of that.
We'll have to wrap up shortly, so I think that will be our last question.
That's a very good last question, Thomas. For better or worse, the Conservatives believe there is no evidence that serious vote fraud took place, and that whatever happened is being looking into by the appropriate authorities. The opposition is with Thomas.
Thanks to all. We'll be keeping on top of this story. So, it appears, will you