Robo-calling Probe Probably Futile

Even though Elections Canada has been called in to investigate, don't expect any resolution to the "robo-calling" brawl that's currently going on in Ottawa. Like many others, my first take on Ottawa's robo-calling “scandal” was amusement.

Elections Canada robo-calls | BCBusiness
Over 31,000 voters have contacted Elections Canada about receiving fraudulent robo-calls.

Even though Elections Canada has been called in to investigate, don’t expect any resolution to the “robo-calling” brawl that’s currently going on in Ottawa.

Like many others, my first take on Ottawa’s robo-calling “scandal” was amusement.

I mean, it had all the right factors for fun: a throwaway cell phone used to initiate the call centre phone calls to random voters; the initiator being someone who called himself “Pierre Poutine,” and gave his address as “Separatist Street” in Quebec; calls to a few voters in a couple of Ontario ridings directing them to the wrong polling locations; and other nuisance calls purporting to be from the NDP or Liberals to supporters in an attempt to turn them off their chosen party.

Pretty juvenile stuff, more like a high-school prank than a political dirty tricks campaign.

My thinking was that surely, this is just the Canadian media typically looking for a political scandal and – how Canadian – finding it in federal election finagling. Boring!

But then it got more complicated.

By the end of last week, some 31,000 people had contacted Elections Canada and reported that they, too, were subject to this election finagling. Suddenly, the robocop controversy had become a dirty tricks scandal.

I doubt that all 31,000 were victims of dirty tricks and some may be political enemies piling on. But there’s a big enough number to warrant a thorough investigation.

But don’t hold your breath for one. Elections Canada is looking into it, and their record on these things isn’t stellar. Besides, these things often take years, especially when Elections Canada investigators have to talk to each one of those 31,000 complainants.

Then there’s the Conservative Party’s reaction to all this. At first they attacked the opposition for even hinting that there was some kind of trickery going on. Then they were shocked – shocked! – that the Liberals might be using American robo-callers instead of good Canadian ones. They hinted at lawn signs being lifted from yards and pamphlets being pilfered from mailboxes – a tactic used by every political group in every election, everywhere, every year.

This week, Saskatchewan Conservative Maurice Vellacott even suggested that his party’s own appointed investigator, Elections Canada, was the culprit. It’s incompetent and probably misdirected some voters itself, he said.

Of course some of this is simply politicians being stupid and defensive, but it’s also an indication of fear. The Conservative Party has been called on the carpet before for election peculiarities. Most recently, it paid a $50,000 fine for “inadvertent” non-compliance of the Canada Elections Act – this following a dramatic police raid on party headquarters, and four years of investigation.

And they have strong memories about the demise of Paul Martin and the Liberals after a public inquiry into electoral corruption in Quebec a few years ago.

So don’t look for any kind of proper investigation into what’s starting to look like a picture of wholesale electoral tampering.