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The Robocall rogues gallery

John Bell

February 27, 2012

The growing RoboCall scandal is being likened to Watergate, and Stephen Harper to our own Richard Nixon. I used to run home from school to watch the Watergate hearings. My pal Stu and I collected tapes of Nixon speeches: we would marvel at the evident gap between Nixon’s self-righteous sincerity and the weasel words issuing from his jowly mouth.

I think the comparison is valid. Stephen Harper may lack the jowls, but I believe he shares Nixon’s honest belief that he has license to break any law because the cause he serves is right—in more ways than one.

Harper says he is shocked–shocked I tell ya–that anyone in the Tory ranks would stoop so low as to use pre-programmed phone calls to try to prevent voters in crucial swing ridings from getting to the polls. This must be the work of a lone, rogue zealot.

And behold, Michael Sona, a young staffer for Tory MP Eve Adams, has resigned. Sona was a campaign worker in the Guelph riding where many of the misleading automated calls were sent.

The calls didn’t just come to Guelph. As many as 26 ridings across the country are being investigated for similar incidents. It simply deifies belief that one 23-year-old Tory nerd could have engineered such a widespread and costly dirty tricks campaign. Can you say fall guy?

Even pro-Tory columnist Andrew Coyne isn’t buying the lone pimply gunman story: “But, well, let’s say it fits a pattern–if not of outright law-breaking then certainly of close-to-the-wind tactics and ends-justify-the-means ethics.”

To see what Coyne means, just Google the name of a Tory cabinet minister and the word “scandal” and see what happens:

Bev Oda: the Minister of International Cooperation cut funding from interfaith social justice group Kairos, back in 2009. First she said it was slashed on the recommendation of the Canadian International Development Agency. In fact CIDA recommended that funding should continue, and someone in Oda’s office wrote “not” in between the lines. Oda denied lying, saying that she was “confused” by sloppy paperwork on the part of her staffers. Then it was proved she had ordered the “not” to be inserted. So Oda lied to Parliament and then lied to Parliament about lying to Parliament. No wonder Harper backed her to the hilt.

Peter MacKay: our Defence Minister is a well-documented flying fool. His misuse of government jets and search-and-rescue helicopters is legendary, and has cost taxpayers a fortune. Not only did he abuse military resources to pick him up from his fishing holiday; he further abused those resources to try to find dirt on a particularly dogged Liberal critic. What was supposed to be MacKay’s “gotcha” moment backfired—it seems the Liberal MP actually went through channels to book a full day with the search-and-rescue team.

Lisa Raitt: now Labour Minister, she had the Natural Resources portfolio when she fired respected civil servant Linda Keen because she dared to order the Chalk River nuclear facility shut down over safety violations. Chalk River produces Canada’s supply of medical isotopes for cancer treatment. In a mistakenly recorded conversation, Raitt declares that she will score political points because cancer is a “sexy” issue.

Tony Clement: the Treasury Board boss abused his office and funneled G20 funds into the pockets of developers and small town politicos in his own Muskoka riding.

Jason Kenney: the Immigration Minister and Deputy Prime Minister is Harper’s right hand. In 2009, it is alleged, his office illegally interfered with plans by British anti-war MP George Galloway to visit Canada. Kenney’s chief aide, Alykhan Velshi, resigned. Weep not for Velshi: he went on to set up, propaganda wing of the oil industry and the Conservative government. Velshi now works directly for Harper, as director of planning in the PMO.

Mr. Kenney detained a boatload of Tamil refugees in 2010; several court rulings declared the mass detention was illegal. Kenney displayed his respect for law and order by simply ignoring the judges.

From the slime to the ridiculous: it was Kenney’s office that staged the phony citizenship ceremony live on Sun TV. Kenney denies any involvement.

Gerry Ritz: perhaps inspired by Kenney’s respect for the courts, the Agriculture Minister broke the law by summarily disbanding the Canadian Wheat Board, then thumbed his nose when the courts sided with farmers.

Their way or the highway: First there was Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver saying that anyone opposing the Tar Sands or the Northern Gateway Pipeline was an economic traitor. Canadians responded by flooding environmental groups with donations and support.

Then Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews seized his Dubya moment and declared that you are either with the government’s internet spying bill or with the child pornographers. His senseless hyperbole drew massive opposition and forced the Tories to scrap the bill, at least temporarily.

I could go on, but I invite you to Google the names of Tory Ministers Maxime Bernier, Helen Guergis, John Baird and Julian Fantino followed by “scandal”. Or for real fun look up Bruce Carson, one of Stephen Harper’s closest and longest serving advisors for a sordid tale of fraud convictions, abuse of office, illegal lobbying and a penchant for prostitutes.

So far they have ridden it all out by stalling, lying, finding some fresh young staffer to sacrifice, and then changing the subject by announcing some headline grabbing story usually involving illegal immigrants.

But maybe that is being unfair. Maybe it is true, as junior cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre said on CBC News: “The Conservative national campaign functioned in a clean and ethical fashion. That’s how our party operates in all cases.”

Maybe Michael Sona is an evil mastermind worthy of a James Bond movie.

Oh, here’s a story about how Jason Kenney is going to crack down on that flood of illegal immigrants flying here to have their “passport babies”.

Tory business as usual?

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