First, an admission: in previous articles about our oddly lethargic guarantor of free and fair elections in Canada, I over-hastily selected the appointment of a new Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Côté, as its tipping-point into utter ornamental uselessness.
Certainly Côté lost no time making a deeply controversial move: deciding not to investigate foreign influences on our electoral process. But it was Marc Mayrand, the CEO of Elections Canada, who was responsible for a last-minute intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the embattled Conservative MP for Etobicoke Centre, Ted Opitz.
The knowledgeable Alice Funke of Pundits’ Guide set me straight on that one, an elementary fact that I should have already known. But she failed, somehow, to dispel my gloom.
In fact, the glacial pace of Elections Canada’s investigations has been troubling me for some time—the agency has only now gotten around to Dean Del Mastro’s alleged improprieties in the 2008 federal election. But now, it seems, they don’t even bother with them.
Two stories this week reveal that the rot at Elections Canada had set in well before Côté’s appointment. The first was the upsetting revelation that EC investigators appear to be checking into alleged dirty doings in only one riding, that of Guelph, during the 2011 election. This is despite receiving complaints from voters in 234 ridings who were fraudulently directed to phantom poll booths. Some of those ridings were decided by very close margins, and are presently the subject of a court case in which EC is playing no role.
The second story concerns the unwillingness to pursue the complaint about Front Porch Strategies, noted above. It would seem that the boffins at EC have decided to construe the relevant section of the Canada Elections Act so narrowly that it can never be used. Democracy Watch has been all over this, and for good measure is calling for a public inquiry into EC enforcement standards for the past 15 years.
Elections Canada, meanwhile, confirms that the problem isn’t one of limited means, which I had once charitably assumed:
Elections Canada spokesperson Diane Benson says the organization is in no way starved for resources, despite a recent budget cut of approximately eight percent. She says the cut didn’t come from investigations staff, and explains that the Commissioner of Canada Elections—the official responsible for the agency’s investigations wing—has the authority to contract additional resources if a case requires it, or call on agencies such as the RCMP for help.
And Benson proceeds to offer what must be close to the gold standard in flabby excuses for being unable to determine how the Commissioner for Canada Elections interprets the law:
…When asked if it would be possible to ask the office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections how it decides on legal interpretations, Benson said it was unlikely as the office doesn’t have a media relations contact.
Good grief. Can’t she pick up the phone?
In any case, I did Yves Côté an injustice, which I regret. His predecessor, after all, was no hell either. The appointment of Côté as the current Commissioner for Canada Elections was not a sign of a new direction, as I had earlier suggested. He was just the last brick in the wall.