Monday, February 27, 2012

Today in Robocon

1. There's a huge story in the Star that will move Robocon much further down the road: "Conservative scripts misdirected voters in 2011 election, say call centre staff."
Callers on behalf of the federal Conservative Party were instructed in the days before last year’s election to read scripts telling voters that Elections Canada had changed their voting locations, say telephone operators who worked for a Thunder Bay-based call centre.
A big problem here, if you read through the report, is that the telephone operators have a different story from the Conservative party spokesman. The telephone operators got the distinct impression that they were misdirecting voters, based on the reactions of people on the phone. The Conservative spokesman, Fred Delorey, says they were contacting their own voters to get out the vote and he has a convoluted version of what the operators were doing. The operators speak of a script. But Delorey speaks of an interactive conversation that the operators would have with voters. The stories don't jibe and will be fertile ground for the Elections Canada and RCMP investigations to test.

A maddening aspect of the story that is going to put a microscope on the RCMP, their reaction when the call centre staffer brought it to their attention. employee was so concerned that something was amiss she says she reported it to her supervisor at the RMG site, to the RCMP office in Thunder Bay and to a toll-free Elections Canada number at the time.

Annette Desgagné, 46, said it became clear to her — after so many people complained that the “new” voting locations made no sense or were “way the hell across town” — that the live operators were, in fact, misdirecting voters.
Desgagné said she made notes around election time, thinking someone would follow up on her complaint. But she said the RCMP — she does not recall the officer’s name — told her there was nothing they could do. Nobody else followed up with her.

With calls going across the country, as predicted, people such as these call centre employees are starting to come forth. Good on 'em and may there be many more.

As Kinsella notes, this torpedoes the rogue story the Conservatives might have thought they could get away with.

2. A few points of disagreement here on John Ibbitson's Robocon column last night, "Voter-suppression scandal will be a test of PM’s leadership." First, this part which seems to come from some gentlemanly campaign code or something:
People who know a lot about election campaigns, and who talked freely in exchange for confidentiality, point out several things. First, we can be reasonably certain that Mr. Harper, who is Leader of the Conservative Party as well as Prime Minister, knew nothing about what was going on in Guelph or elsewhere. Campaign officials protect their leaders from that sort of direct knowledge.
Many of us who have been watching this government critically would respectfully disagree with the presumption that is being offered up here, in the national media, serving to inoculate Mr. Harper. What relevance is it what campaign officials typically do? They may, in most instances, protect the leader, but so what? It's only relevant what happened here.

Of course, all investigatory officials should work on the presumption that the evidence takes them wherever it takes them. It doesn't really need to be said that they should explore all angles without regard for quaint notions of campaign customs. But let's say it anyway. And as we well know, this is not exactly a hands-off guy, Mr. Harper. He knew about the offer to Chuck Cadman. He speaks of having tapes on an opposition leader, presumably to be used during an election or as advertising outside an election.

So there is no factual basis to say we should be reasonably certain that Harper "knew nothing about what was going on in Guelph or elsewhere." Any budding conventional wisdom that Harper had no knowledge of this cheating is not justified.

Second, in the context of explaining why this election cheating scandal is different and could be fatal to Harper, there nevertheless appears this maddening paragraph:
The Tories dominate federal politics because they are seen as the party that understands the importance of protecting the economy. Critics impale themselves on abuse-of-democracy issues, such as contempt of Parliament, treatment of Afghan detainees, the long-form census. None of that matters in a world where getting and keeping a job is job one.
What utter moral bankruptcy and nonsense. Of course democratic issues matter, we're not Canada Inc. And given the widespread election cheating scandal staring us in the face, one can't help but think that maybe if the Harper crew hadn't run roughshod over those issues that Ibbitson enumerates, perhaps becoming emboldened in thinking they can skate on such democratic issues, we wouldn't be dealing with this cheating scandal today.