Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Robo-calls – If Anti-Bullying Legislation Applied to Legislators, It Would Be Just As Toothless

Whatever the outcome of the Robo-call investigation, there will be no consequences. This government is above the law

As Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad continues to massacre civilians of the Syrian population in Homs and other places with impunity, and Vladimir Putin celebrates his electoral “victory” in Russia with a severe case of I-have-the-biggest-dick-in-the-world syndrome, it is important here in Canada that we do not overstate the severity or magnitude of the robo-calls affair. Canada is obviously not Russia or Syria. Yet even in the relative peace, security and comfort we enjoy as Canadians, we cannot afford to be complacent in the face of the government’s continuous obfuscation and treachery. Because it has become clear to anybody paying attention that this government breaks the law all the time and gets away with it. Whatever we say about living in a “democracy” of “law and order” is true for now for ordinary citizens – the locking up of the Shafia family proves that – but the federal government has opened the door toward lawlessness and dictatorship a crack, and now that they have I don’t have a hard time seeing them blow it wide open down the road.

What do we know for sure about the robo-calls scandal so far? We knew during the election that a Conservative campaign worker attempted to storm a room and steal a student ballot box filled with non-conservatives votes in Guelph. Guelph was one of the last seats outside Toronto in Ontario that had not been won away from the Liberals by the Conservatives and they wanted it bad this time. We know now that someone in Guelph or somewhere registered a pay as you go cellphone in the name of Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette Quebec and harassed voters in Guelph either pretending to be the Liberal Candidate (not technically, totally illegal) or Elections Canada personnel (totally illegal). For those who follow the rhetoric of the CPC, the separatist scapegoat for the prank befits them. Like when you tell a cop “Yeah, my name’s (insert person you hate here) if you're in hot water.

Calls were reported across the country, especially in close races of ridings the Conservatives won for the first time from the Liberals by less than fifty votes such as North Bay and Etobicoke Centre). Elections Canada is investigating a call centre the Conservatives were using in Thunder Bay where the Star reports low-paid temps report being told to impersonate Elections Canada staff, as well as a company called RackNine in Edmonton, owned by proud Conservative Matt Meier. It has been revealed lately that the Conservatives also procured services from American robo-call companies. The government is categorically denying all wrongdoing, and the Elections Canada investigation in underway, but we know this: The government that buys attack ads in the millions not thousands, answers inquiries into its bungling of countless files with straw man personal attacks, and has security remove people from its campaign rallies whose social media profiles it takes a personal dislike in, takes no prisoners during election time or at any other time. And if 31,000 people reported fraudulent and possibly illegal robocalls, the road sooner or later will lead to the party it seems had a working, business relationship with at least four firms dealing in the trade.

Skeptical about the impish pouting and shouting of $157,000 taxpayer dollars per year, full-time partisans in the House of Commons like Dean Del Mastro and Pierre Polievre in the face of these accusations of bad behavior (“It was Elections Canada!” “The Liberals Did It!”)? It’s hard not to be. We are dealing with a party that is not just unafraid to walk on the dark side, but seems to live on the dark side. Remember a few months ago, Jewish Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s constituents in Mount Royal were harassed with robo-calls telling lies that he was stepping down and there was going to a by-election (no electoral stone goes unturned in the Conservative war-roon – like Guelph, the demographics of this riding confirm to Conservative strategists that it is ripe for the taking). The Speaker Andrew Scheer, who is supposed to be non-partisan in his role but is, remember, an elected Conservative MP, duly called the action “reprehensible” for the news headlines to report and did nothing. This matter demonstrates that there is a culture in the party of winning by any means necessary, and attacking even when opponents don’t know they’re in a fight (In boxing, this is called a “low blow” and is illegal, and good people extend the logic to real life; if an opponent can’t defend himself, how fair of fight is that?). It also shows that robo-calls have now been entrenched in the party’s modus operandi, which is why the denial and the finger pointing and the refusal to open their records are all the more comical. But we will not have the last laugh. The Conservative government and Conservative Party of Canada believe that anyone who has a problem with them and their disgusting tactics can do whatever it takes to stop them. Well, I’m sure a lot of people would love to, but in this country you can’t do anything.

It’s true. Those waiting for smoking guns, recalls, by-elections, and a thunderstorm of rotten eggs on Stephen Harper’s face would do better to return to tasks such as watching paint dry or grass grow. The last time the Conservatives committed electoral fraud (Yes. This Conservative Party of Canada has already been convicted of electoral fraud on a separate occasion, the 2006 election), it took Elections Canada and then the legal system almost four years to complete an investigation and arrive at a verdict. The verdict and the plea? Guilty. The punishment? A $52,000 fine, and one of the convicted criminals, Doug Finley, is now a Conservative Senator ($165,000 taxpayer dollars per year) chairing a Senate committee investigating how to revoke environmental charities’ tax-deductible status because of the threat he thinks they pose to the Canadian economy. This party also successfully rode out and outmaneouvered a challenge in 2008 from a legally legitimate, democratically elected coalition with an undemocratic prorogue, then did another totally dubious prorogue a year and a half later for the Olympics to derive the full partisan nationalist benefit from this event and because “the market is more stable when parliament’s not sitting”. Think about it. A precedent has been set that when the Prime Minister doesn’t like what is happening in the most important legislature in the land, the House of Commons, he can change the channel, put a padlock on the door, and shut it down until further notice. We have scientists in this country who are prevented from exercising academic freedom and doing their jobs by the government. There is also at least one minister (Tony Clement) guilty of blatant misappropriation of “Economic Action Plan” funds for basically partisan purposes to the tune of $50 million dollars, although with the CPC majority, he has no worries of ever facing any consequences for this.

If the people in this government held jobs in the private sector, they would be fired, plain and simple. We have clear examples here of misuse of funds, criminal activity, dereliction of duty, and doctoring/manipulation of records. There would not be a need for an essay like this or an explanation – a private sector manager would look at the facts on any of these files, and dismiss the employee responsible. Period. No time for the idiotic histrionics of something like question period; a superior in the real world sees these people engaged in unethical behavior, they knew exactly what they were doing, and now they’re liabilities. So get rid of them before they can hatch god knows what hair-brained schemes they think of next.

This is why that although I have full confidence in Elections Canada, one of the last good non-partisan bureaucracies in this land allowed to do its job (for now), I know the Conservatives won’t face reprisal no matter how bad it ends up being if and when the bomb drops. A segment of the population has been brainwashed into such ideological obedience (the ones screaming “Sore Losers!” on the comment boards of robo call articles) that they would support this government if it created a ministry to drown cats. We can’t eliminate bullies; we need to teach kids how to teach them the lessons their parents won’t. And we sure as hell can’t count on the bush league red or orange party to stop the authoritarian Conservative juggernaut which is only going to increase during the next 3 year period in which it has Carte Blanche to do whatever the hell it wants. But that’s a whole other story altogether.

Democratic Institutions

This week, the untouchable Steve Harper likely placed a consolation call to his close personal friend Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, and let him cry on his shoulder for the titanic and shattering defeat of his fake Subway plan, for which there was never any money, plans or approval from anywhere. Karen Stintz and city council wrested control of the Transit File from the feckless Ford, who acts like he’s a dictator but in reality is just one vote out of 45 on council who probably can only rely on 14 others. Harper probably bored his ears off with the big dick tales of all his own governments ill-considered legislation from the 2006-2011 minority period that got delayed, amended, rejected in committee, or in most cases died on paper between vacations and campaigns, and how the opposition that orchestrated all that even found his government in contempt of Parliament (a first for Westminster commonwealth democracies), yet in spite of all that the Cons came back and won a majority so GUESS WHAT? Now its F--- You Opposition, were ramming through all this s--- you rejected into the same massive bill and passing it uncontested.

Ford might smile and laugh half-heartedly at the legislative triumphs his ideological colleague, but it’s of little consolation: there’s no Prime Minister-style executive power at City Hall. Harper sat through five years of being subordinated and outwitted by the opposition, his hair went from brown to grey, his poker face went from steel to triple-reinforced steel, but there was vindication at the end of the line; majority and the promised land. But all Ford can do now is convene a stupid talk radio show with his brother on the station that the 10% of residents who are hardcore supporters listen to. Maybe these two thick-skulled blusterers can take a look at what their hero Prime Minister did when he was on the outside looking in – did he go breathe fiery-tongued, anti-government sermons at Chambers of Commerce and Evangelical Congregations and Gun Clubs and Western Alienation basement organizations? No, he put on a sweater, played Beatles songs, doled out pork and tax credits with a zeal that would make a socialist blush, pretended he was Chinese, Sikh, Quebecois, Tamil, and Jewish, depending on what day of the week it was, and refused a multinational’s acquisition of a Canadian corporation. In other words, he did things he had no interest in doing for the sake of getting into power but probably had fun, learnt a few things, and made himself look good in the process. Memo to the Ford brothers – you’re not going to accomplish anything jabbering on to the CFRB listeners who already support you while thumbing your nose at rest of the city. But of course you wouldn’t know that, because you’re elite silver spoon sons of a politician/businessman, so instead of learning lessons in politics in the face of defeat (a must for every successful politician) and admitting you were wrong, you just run back to the people who like what you say and tell you what you want to hear. I’m sure your wives have a great time dealing with such childishness every day.

Despite the clandestine funneling of extra powers into the executive in the past twenty years that has occurred at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, it is nice to see that Toronto Democracy still has mechanisms that respond to the most annoying kind of bully – the spoiled child (despite threats of robo-calls from the bully’s older brother). It remains to be seen what Canadian democracy can come up with to contain the most dangerous kind of bully that it has given unprecedented power to- the sociopath.

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