Coyne on Robocon

From the Ottawa Citizen, February 25th, 2012.

James Andrew Coyne[1] (born December 23, 1960)[2] is a columnist with the National Post and a member of the At Issue panel on CBC. Previously, he has been national editor for Maclean’s, a weekly national newsmagazine in Canada and a columnist with the Globe and Mail.[3]

It is a party that believes it has had to fight twice as hard to get where it is, a belief that has only hardened through each of the many compromises it has made on the way. The progression is sadly familiar. Having first compromised its beliefs, a party finds it is easier to compromise its principles; having compromised its principles, it learns to compromise its ethics; and compromises of ethics, as we have seen in other parties, lead sooner or later to compromises with the law.

Good journalists do more than present the facts; they place facts in context of history, both the recent and specific and the more general and human.

The whole Coyne article:
Here is a list of some of the things we do not know about the Robocon scandal  (for those just joining us, the use of automated “robocalls” to harass or  deceive — con — voters in certain ridings during the last election). We do not  know whether the calls were made by members of the Conservative party. We do not  know whether any Conservative authorized them, or even knew about them. We do  not know whether anyone was prevented from voting, or had their vote changed, as  a result, nor do we know whether the results of any riding were affected.

But my God, what we know is disturbing enough. There were not a few calls:  there were thousands. They did not occur in one or two ridings: there were at  least 18 of them, scattered across the country — a handful of which received the  automated calls, while 14 received live harassing calls, targeting Liberal  households. In all but one the race was viewed as being between a Conservative  and a Liberal, and in every one the calls were made to Liberal supporters. (The  NDP now claims to have found nine ridings in which its own supporters received  similar calls. These remain to be verified.) In some cases voters were given  false information on where to vote by someone pretending to represent Elections  Canada. In others, they were annoyed or insulted by calls purporting to come  from the Liberal party.

There isn’t any doubt that this was election fraud; whoever did it, if  caught, is almost certainly facing jail time. In the particular case of the  riding of Guelph, Ont., as reported by Postmedia’s Stephen Maher and Glen  McGregor, Elections Canada investigators have traced the calls to an  Edmonton-based “voice-broadcast” company, RackNine, that has done work for a  number of Conservative politicians, including Stephen Harper — though the calls  were apparently made through it rather than by it. Elections Canada believes it  knows the identity of the caller. One agency email obtained by Postmedia refers  to “Conservative campaign office communications with electors.” Another warns:  “This one is far more serious. They have actually disrupted the voting  process.”

So, no, we do not know for a fact that the calls came from anyone acting on  the authority of the Conservative party. But, well, let’s say it fits a pattern — if not of outright lawbreaking then certainly of close-to-the-wind tactics and  ends-justify-the-means ethics. The “in and out” affair may not have been the  scandal many, including Elections Canada, thought it was, but it hardly spoke of  a robust commitment to honesty and fair play. The deceptive calls to voters in  Irwin Cotler’s riding of Mount Royal are a still closer precedent. It is not  implausible that somebody connected with the party would have taken their cues  as to what was considered appropriate behaviour, and run with it.

But who? It beggars belief that local campaign workers in 18 different  ridings could have separately hit upon the same scam, or carried it out without  the knowledge of anyone outside the riding. The notion that the whole thing  could be put down to one over-zealous young campaign worker, as some are putting  about, is even less credible. Whoever did this would not only have to have the  capacity to organize and fund a national crank-call operation. They would also  have to have the lists of names and phone numbers to call. Such information  would be closely held with respect to the party’s own supporters. But how many  people in the party would have access to lists of Liberal supporters? And how  did they get them?

It is hard to overstate how serious this is. It doesn’t matter whether the  calls had their intended effect. It is sufficient that someone made them. If it  were just the circumstances, or just their track record, the Conservatives might  be given the benefit of the doubt. But the two together, while they do not prove  anyone in the party was involved, make it all too plausible to believe they  were. Indeed, it would be more surprising to find they weren’t.

Which is surely telling in its own right. There are people of whom you would  say: it is not possible to believe that they could have been involved in this in  any way. And there are organizations whose culture is such that, were it to be  discovered that some wrongdoing had taken place, the immediate assumption would  be that it must have been a rogue operation. That is not the culture of the  Conservative Party of Canada. If it was a rogue operation, it was one born of an  altogether different culture.

Ethical standards are fragile enough in politics. Too many partisans view it  as war by other means, exaggerating the stakes in order to justify their  behaviour to themselves. In the case of the federal Conservatives, that  predisposition to expediency is overlaid with a swaggering, bullying style, yet  one that betrays a deep insecurity: the insecurity of a party that, for good  reasons and bad, believes the system — the media, the bureaucracy, the judiciary — is stacked against it, and that it is therefore obliged, if not entitled, to  take a few shortcuts to even the odds.

It is a party that believes it has had to fight twice as hard to get where it  is, a belief that has only hardened through each of the many compromises it has  made on the way. The progression is sadly familiar. Having first compromised its  beliefs, a party finds it is easier to compromise its principles; having  compromised its principles, it learns to compromise its ethics; and compromises  of ethics, as we have seen in other parties, lead sooner or later to compromises  with the law.

Read more: http://www.canada.com/news/Coyne+Crank+call+scandal+fits+Conservatives+pattern+political+expediency/6206836/story.html#ixzz1nRmBsI7v

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