Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Conservatives attacking Elections Canada

There's a distinction worth noting with respect to yesterday's raid on the Conservative HQ in Ottawa on the Conservatives' in-and-out election advertising scheme. The search warrant was executed by the RCMP on behalf of the Elections Commissioner, William Corbett. He is conducting an investigation, separate and apart from the Conservative civil lawsuit against Elections Canada. Corbett's investigation may result in criminal charges being filed. So there are two tracks of procedures here, the Corbett investigation which prompted yesterday's search warrant and the Conservative civil lawsuit. Notably, the Conservatives filed their lawsuit a month after Corbett launched his investigation, likely to send a message to all involved:
Last April, Mr. Mayrand turned the case over to Mr. Corbett, who is empowered to investigate alleged violations of the Elections Act.

The following month, the Conservatives launched a lawsuit in Federal Court against Mr. Mayrand, seeking to have his decision quashed. The Tories claimed the advertising expenses were entirely legal and alleged that other parties made the same sort of transfers. Mr. Mayrand unfairly singled them out, they claimed. That case is currently on-going.
So the Conservatives have decided to play hardball with Elections Canada on this from the start. Today's Globe report continues that hardball effort, citing a lot of background anonymous Conservative sources who appear to be seeking to tarnish Mr. Mayrand and Corbett at this time. Harper himself subtly led the charge in attacking the two officials yesterday in the House by implying they were acting in concert, which would be prohibited:
...Prime Minister Stephen Harper fired back with a counterattack against Mr. Corbett and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, who is being sued by the representatives of the candidates for failing to reimburse those expenses – a suit launched after Mr. Corbett opened his investigation.

“The Conservative Party initiated court action against Elections Canada some time ago on the advertising issue,” Mr. Harper told Parliament during the daily Question Period yesterday.

I also would observe that tomorrow Elections Canada officials were scheduled to be examined by lawyers from the Conservative Party. While today's actions may or may not delay that somewhat, we remain extremely confident in our legal position.”

As Elections Commissioner, Mr. Corbett is supposed to exercise his investigatory powers at arms-length from the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, who oversees the administration of elections. The allegation that Mr. Corbett obtained a search warrant to influence the Conservatives' lawsuit amounts to a charge that he abused his powers.

Conservative officials would not speak on the record, but called reporters to point out, anonymously, that it was peculiar that the raid occurred a day before the deposition of party officials in the civil matter.

One of them said the police action underlines the party's long-held contention that Elections Canada's case against the party was weak.

Another said the Elections Commissioner had obtained the warrant to apply pressure against the Tories in their lawsuit against the Chief Electoral Officer.

“They may be scared of their case in court,” said the Conservative official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The Conservative Party sees this as a PR stunt and a tactic of intimidation.

The Conservative official also said that Elections Canada has applied the law unevenly from party to party. The Federal Court recently rejected the party's attempts to file new material to make that case in court, after Elections Canada officials argued they were red herrings that were not similar to the Conservatives' case.

Both Mr. Corbett and Mr. Mayrand were appointed during the Conservatives' term in office.

Neither Mr. Corbett nor Mr. Mayrand would comment on the allegations made by Conservative officials yesterday. (emphasis added)
Leave it to our paranoid Prime Minister to see a plot at every turn against him. And to go so far as to publicly undermine significant government officials, here Mayrand and Corbett of Elections Canada, in whom the public needs to have confidence. But none of that matters to the Harper Conservatives who have no sense of propriety in terms of their actions as a responsible government.

Michael Ignatieff's words in the House of Commons yesterday are worth recalling here:
"How did it get to this -- an RCMP squad raiding the offices of the Conservative Party," asked Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff.

"Why did (the RCMP) have to pry information from this government's clenched fist ... This is what you get when you play fast and loose with election law. This is what you get when you stonewall Elections Canada ... This is what you get with this prime minister. He sets the tone. Will he finally admit (that) this is about his character?" (emphasis added)
"He sets the tone," indeed.

An unprecedented raid on the Conservative HQ by the Elections Commissioner takes place, and the Prime Minister's response is to claim it's an abuse of power. At this point we as voters have to be asking ourselves exactly what authority the Prime Minister does respect at this point. He's already fired the nuclear regulator after having attacked her as a partisan hack. And gotten away with it. Apparently such episodes have emboldened him to go for more. Now the Elections Canada officials, who've already had a prior taste of the Prime Minister's attempt to undermine them, are feeling the heat of anonymous Conservatives banging down the doors of the media to characterize the actions of the Elections Commissioner as a "PR stunt and a tactic of intimidation." Talk about irony, hypocrisy, indecency and impropriety all busting out of such little smear efforts.

There are serious Conservative electoral infractions that are at issue here. Let's not lose sight of that through all the Conservative smearing that's now circulating.

And let's remember the contempt that is on display here by Conservatives toward an independent institution, Elections Canada, whose credibility they seek to damage. It's another reminder to us all of exactly why Stephen Harper must not be given the keys to a majority government.