Dr. Dawg

Reprise: is Elections Canada up to the job?

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Elections Canada1.jpg

Unprecedented voter suppression tactics, now identified in over seventy ridings, are being investigated by Elections Canada in two of them, Guelph and Thunder Bay.* I have already expressed scepticism that anything but a full-blown public inquiry will get to the bottom of things.

Alice Funke, of Pundits’ Guide, disagrees—and she came over to wag a finger at me. Here is our exchange, irritated tone and all:

Very sorry to see your intemperate rant, Doctor. The Chief Electoral Officer in his report on the 41st general election (http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rep/off/sta_2011&document=p2&lang=e#a35) did tell Parliament that he was pursuing this, he referred the issue for investigation to the Commissioner of Elections (you do know the difference between the roles of those two officers of parliament, right?), the Commissioner has been investigating (or Glen McGregor and Steve Maher wouldn’t have their story), and the Commish has referred it to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision.

They have to obtain sufficient evidence in order to lay a charge and obtain a conviction, unlike bloggers who only need to collect a bunch of facts that sound related, maybe.

I could take up the rest of your post issue by issue, if time permitted, but allow me just to say that a full-blown public inquiry would prevent criminal charges from being laid (see the Patty [sic] Starr case), and could be cancelled at any time by the Prime Minister (as happened in the case of Somalia).

I realize you are very angry, as are many people who are rightly concerned with the state of our democracy (several Conservatives included, I hope you won’t be surprised to learn). But if you throw everything but the kitchen sink into this, you risk allowing the waters to be badly muddied. And if you undermine the legitimacy of the Commissioner of Elections, an independent officer of Parliament who I believe has been doing an excellent job over the course of his mandate, then who will we have left to diligently and temperately get to the bottom of any actual infractions of the Elections Act on behalf of Canadians.

Good grief, the condescension. Anyway, my response:

Your faith in Elections Canada is indeed touching, but the facts do speak for themselves.

1) The Commissioner for Canada Elections (and do avoid being condescending; I’m fully aware of his role) essentially threw up his hands at the start. I quoted him at length in my post. If what he says inspires confidence in you, then you might try reading him again. The office is now vacant, by the way.

2) Elections Canada does not have the resources for a full-blown investigation of the scope required . At best, its investigations tend to be piecemeal, being complaint-driven. In that connection, it will be interesting to observe—if we are permitted—the handling of the 31,000 or more complaints presently before it.

3) More than seventy ridings are now affected. All of two ridings are presently under serious investigation (Guelph and Thunder Bay).

4) In the case of one of those two ridings (Guelph), Conservative operatives have been going over the evidence (call records) before EC’s lone special investigator even arrives, compromising even that investigation.

5) Disposition of EC complaints is kept secret. There is no public accountability. I have already referenced Duff Conacher on this, and have nothing to add.

6) There is no reason why a public inquiry cannot lead to criminal charges being laid. It depends upon the terms of reference. In any case, only a properly-resourced, independent, public judicial inquiry with full powers and broad terms of reference will get to the bottom of what appears at this point to be massive, organized wrongdoing. Let Harper try to stop it in its tracks if he dares.

Stick to what you do best, Alice—number-crunching. You’re way off-base here.

I do stand corrected on one point, at least for not being sufficiently clear: a public inquiry in itself cannot ascertain criminal guilt. But its findings of fact can certainly be used by the appropriate authorities in a subsequent criminal investigation.

The issue here, in any case, isn’t about shipping people off to prison, although that would certainly be an enjoyable bonus. It is about ascertaining the full extent of what certainly appears to most people across the political spectrum to be major electoral irregularities in the May 2, 2011 election.

So the floor is open. Is Elections Canada up to the job? Would a public inquiry do more harm than good?

UPDATE: Alice Funke responds. I have replaced her paragraphing, which got lost in the migration, and reproduced my reply as well.

UPPERDATE: (March 6) Elections Canada has now widened its investigation to the riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming, delivered to the Conservatives by a margin of 18 votes. [H/t Impolitical]

* I am completely wrong on this, as Alice Funke points out in the original thread (her full response has been reproduced in the thread over here). The investigation is not of the Thunder Bay riding per se, but of the call centre there, which made calls to many other ridings.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on March 5, 2012 12:52 PM.

Conservative tries to sabotage Elections Canada complaint process was the previous entry in this blog.

Conservatives on the defensive: squirrels and bright shiny objects is the next entry in this blog.

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