By Prof. Michael Keefer
Global Research, October 10, 2015 | Rabble.ca, September 8, 2015
Because the "robocalls" fraud of our 2011 election was insufficiently investigated by state authorities and underreported by the corporate media, Canadians have yet to understand its scale, focus, and impact. Michael Keefer's essays show how the Harper Tories stole a parliamentary majority through vote suppression in 2011 – and how they now hope to repeat the trick.
That 2011 voter-suppression scandal, the "robocalls" fraud: it was all smoke and mirrors, right? So how could Harper's Conservatives have organized a fraud that never happened?
Try consulting Paul Wells's book The Longer I'm Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006-, published in 2013. The jury citation for an award this book won called it "impeccably researched" – and it contains not a whisper about the scandal.
And what do official sources say? On April 24, 2014, Yves Côté, Commissioner of Canada Elections, the bureaucrat who supposedly enforces the Canada Elections Act, published a Summary Investigation Report on Robocalls in which he indicated that the national voter-suppression scandal most of us remember must have been a collective hallucination.
Côté admits that confusing telephone calls were made across Canada. But except in Guelph – where a 22-year-old Tory operative [Michael Sona; see image with Harper in Part II] was thrown under the bus by Conservative Party national headquarters and Sun Media, and then charged by Elections Canada with sole responsibility for the crime – Côté's gumshoes found no evidence of criminal intention to violate the Elections Act. And so he shut down his investigation.
Beyond just stating his conclusions, Côté suggested how we should interpret this non-event: "the data gathered in the investigations does not lend support to the existence of a conspiracy or conspiracies to interfere with the voting process."
A chorus of those media pundits whom investigative journalist Michael Harris calls "Harper's Helpers" took the hint. "Sorry, Truthers," John Ivison trumpeted in the National Post on April 25, "the robocalls affair is not Canada's Watergate." Quoting Christopher Hitchens' description of conspiracy theories as "the exhaust fumes of democracy," Ivison hoped for a reduction in "similar emissions."
On the same day, Tasha Kheiriddin declared at iPolitics that the "conspiracy theory" around robocalls had indeed gone "poof," and proposed that the affair "may yet be filed under 'History's Greatest Hysterias', next to the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 and the Dancing Plague of Strasbourg in 1518." And on CBC News, Peter Mansbridge suggested in his best funeral-director style that journalists who had received awards for investigative work on the scandal – he meant Postmedia's Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher – ought to apologize to the Canadian public.
These responses seem symptomatic of what Stephen Marche calls in The New York Times "The Closing of the Canadian Mind." The capacity of Canadians to gather information about ourselves, Marche says, has become stunted: "The Harper years have seen a subtle darkening of Canadian life." And since public ignorance fosters corruption, "The darkness has resulted, organically, in one of the most scandal-plagued administrations in Canadian history."
But isn't obscurantism what Harper-era pundits habitually do? Mansbridge has made a career out of substituting mournful sonorities for evidence, and furrowings of the brow for thought. And perhaps mere instinct led Ivison and Kheiriddin to scour Hitchens and Google for follow-ups to Côté's notion of how best to flush the voter-suppression scandal down the memory hole.
Yet the least attempt to research the subject would have shown them how vulnerable Côté's report is to elementary fact-checking: the first two statements in its Executive Summary are flatly misleading.
Côté writes that during the 2011 election (from March 26 to May 2, 2011), the Commissioner of Canada Elections "received approximately 100 complaints" from voters victimized by "nuisance telephone calls or calls providing them with incorrect poll location information." But we know from court documents filed by Elections Canada that more complaints were received in the early morning of election day in Guelph alone, while in an internal email William Corbett, Côté's precursor as Commissioner, confessed that Elections Canada's national communications system collapsed on election day under the volume of messages pouring into it.
Côté then claims that when, beginning on April 29, 2011, returning officers received complaints about misleading poll-location calls, they "dealt with these instances as errors." This is untrue: internal emails made public in November 2012 by Maher and McGregor show that Elections Canada officials at local and senior levels were aware from the start that the false information was being distributed by the Conservative Party.
On May 1, 2011, one election officer wrote to an agency lawyer that "The polling station numbers given out by the Conservative Party… are all wrong. Most of them are quite far away from the elector's home…. The workers in the returning office think these people are running a scam." And on April 29 and May 1, agency lawyers shared with Arthur Hamilton, the Conservative Party's lawyer, their knowledge that polling-station misinformation in a rapidly growing number of ridings across the country had been traced back to Conservative Party sources.
One reason for communicating with Hamilton may have been that an election official in Saint Boniface, one of the first ridings in which misdirection calls were reported, had informed her superiors that the calls there were stopped by Conservative Party headquarters "at the request of the local [party] association."
So there is, after all, more to be said – about Harperite fraud, cheating, lies, dishonour, and deception? Yes indeed.
The 2011 Voter Suppression Fraud Instigated by Harper Conservatives, Gravely Underreported
By Prof. Michael Keefer
Global Research, October 10, 2015 | Rabble.ca, September 9, 2015
In the first essay in this series, I implied that the failure of Maclean's political editor Paul Wells to mention the 2011 electoral fraud in his book on Stephen Harper qualified him for inclusion among "Harper's Helpers." Wells has himself confirmed the point.
When he suggested on Twitter (the same day) that journalists "might just want to ask other questions" rather than digging into government scandals, singer-songwriter Raffi Cavoukian replied: "It's the Harper #elxn42 [2015 election] run that ought to be in question – a lawless, rogue [prime minister] running again – that's the issue." Raffi added that the Harper Conservatives were "convicted of wrongdoing in each of last [three] elections. That's a huge issue." Wells responded, tweeting, "The Governor General, Elections Canada, and the Constitution disagree with you, you flatulent crank."
But the person, the agency, and the abstraction cited by Wells are as irrelevant to the underlying facts as his schoolyard name-calling. It's no stretch to call a PM who has twice been found in contempt of Parliament a lawless rogue, and the electoral wrongdoing is proven and acknowledged – witness the "In and Out" scandal, the edifying spectacle of Harper's ethics spokesman, Dean Del Mastro, being led off to prison in chains, and the resignation of Peter Penashue [who is once again standing as the Conservative candidate for Labrador –Ed.].
Wells is not alone in wanting to ignore Harperite electoral fraud scandals. When for several weeks in early 2012, the 2011 "robocalls" vote suppression scandal was front-page news, Michael Coren of Sun Media scoffed at people getting excited over "a few silly phone calls," while The Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente found it "ridiculous to think there was some massive cheating scheme engineered by higher-ups" in our "boring little democracy."
But Canada is less boring and less of a democracy than Wente thought – silly or not, there were more than a few fraudulent calls. Two polls conducted in the spring of 2012 give an indication of the scale of telephone fraud in the 2011 election. Ipsos Reid, sampling over 3,000 voters primarily in Ontario, found that four per cent of respondents (which would mean about a million voters nationwide) reported having received calls giving false information about the location of their polling station.
Ekos Research, with a larger sample of nearly 4,800 voters drawn from 113 ridings across Canada, found that in six intensely robocalled ridings, an average of 3.8 per cent of voters had received misinformation calls, while across the country an average of 2.3 per cent – or in round terms, 550,000 people – had received calls of this type. (This seems a more reliable conclusion, though the Ipsos Reid survey would suggest that the fraud was more intense in Ontario.)
However, two distinct kinds of telephone fraud were practised nationwide during our 2011 election. On April 19, 2011, the Toronto Star, CBC News, and Maclean's reported that over the preceding week, late-night calls supposedly from Liberal Party campaigns had been infuriating voters in at least ten Ontario ridings, as well as elsewhere. Questions in Parliament ensued – in response to which, Harper indignantly denied his party's involvement, while Del Mastro suggested the calls were simply evidence of Liberal incompetence.
The harassment calls were seriously underreported. But when Elections Canada's final tally of substantiated complaints was made public in Yves Côté's Summary Investigation Report on Robocalls in April 2014, the figures were surprising. Of a total of 2,448 complaints, 1,241 (51 per cent) were about harassment calls, and 1,207 (49 per cent) about misinformation or misdirection calls. If we can take this as an indication that there were nearly equal numbers of the two kinds of calls, it would follow, given Ekos's findings about misinformation calls, that the total number of fraudulent calls must have exceeded 1.1 million – and that harassment calls must have been made in most of the 261 ridings in which telephone fraud occurred.
It's hard to judge the impact of these harassment calls. But it would appear that for every person who recognized them as fraudulent, many others were deceived. Anthony Rota, a network specialist and university administrator, as well as former Liberal MP whose hair's-breadth defeat in Nipissing–Temiskaming can be ascribed to telephone fraud, has told me he initially thought the late-night calls were by some appalling mistake being sent into his riding by Liberal headquarters in Ottawa. Rota was quickly undeceived – but most voters who were awakened at 2 a.m. by calls claiming to be from the local Liberal campaign and arrogantly suggesting, as one recipient has said, "that my support for them was a given," were simply angry.
It may not be coincidental that after a week of the telephone harassment campaign, Liberal support in Ontario dipped for the first time in the campaign to below 30 per cent, and on the national level began a steady decline in the polls from the upper to the lower 20s, ending finally at 18.9 per cent of the vote on election day.
Other factors were also in play: Michael Ignatieff's workmanlike but not stellar performance in the TV debates on April 12 and 13, Liberal passivity in the face of unrelenting Conservative attacks and smears, and the inspiring campaigning of Jack Layton. Nonetheless, it seems clear that the more than half a million harassment calls contributed to the Liberals' decline.
Whatever the precise interplay of causes may have been, the Liberal ship took on water during the last two weeks of the campaign, and on election day, May 2, came close to going down with all hands. But would the appropriate comparison be to the Lusitania rather than the Titanic? To what extent was the disaster due to the captain's poor judgment, and to what extent to the impact of torpedoes hitting below the water-line?
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