Image“The first law of holes” is to stop digging when you’re in one. For the past two weeks the Canadian federal Conservatives have been furiously tunneling toward the center of the Earth, with dirt flying and denials of voter suppression echoing from the bottom – including Harper’s coal-mining ballad about a “smear campaign” against the Tories.

The stakes couldn’t be higher with the robo-calling controversy. If Canadian pundits position the evidence of voter suppression in the last federal election as just another political story to file before falling asleep – and the people don’t rise up to demand accountability – then the future of this country is in serious doubt. We’ll be Nigeria in all but name, and last thing we’ll have to worry about is blowback from Internet banking scams and penis extension ads.

Harper’s majority hinged on as little as 8,000 votes in the last election. And so far 31,000 Canadians have contacted Election Canada about calls, live and recorded, misdirecting them to nonexistent polling stations. We don’t know how many voters were sidetracked – the calls apparently targeted Liberal supporters – but whatever their effect, illegal activity accompanied the last federal election. Without a full public enquiry into the matter, at this stage the federal Conservatives cannot claim to govern with the people’s consent.

Some historical context here. At the 2003 Progressive Conservative convention, leadership candidate David Orchard brokered a deal with candidate Peter Mackay. Orchard sent delegates his way under the condition there would be no merger talks with The Alliance. (He has published this signed agreement online.) Then in October 2003, MacKay and Stephen Harper signed an agreement in principle to merge the Progressive Conservatives and the Alliance to form the new Conservative Party of Canada.

The rebranded Tory party was hatched through deception, full stop. But at least the antidemocratic dicking-around wasn’t at the legislative level. That had to wait until December 2008, when Harper prorogued Parliament over a threatened nonconfidence vote from a coalition of Liberals, NDP, and the Bloc. He did it again a year later, citing the Olympics as a reason, rather than the ongoing investigations into treatment of Afghan detainees. Then in 2011, in a historic first for a sitting Canadian Prime Minister, the Commons Speaker ruled the Conservative government in contempt of Parliament, for stonewalling on crime-bill costs. The nation shrugged.

Each time this cabal screws around in the laboratory of democracy, they turn the   Bunsen burner up another notch. And we, the sleepy amphibians in the pot, blithely paddle around as the mercury goes up. If there was ever a time to go ‘ribbet’, it’s now – before we start croaking.

On the robocalling issue, we have the ‘what’, the ‘where,’ the ‘when’ and the ‘why.’ We have the ‘how’. We’re even at the first level of ‘who,’ by identifying some of the call companies involved. But don’t be fooled if the Tories choose to throw a few disposable bodies from Guelph under the bus. A nation-wide phoning campaign using voter rolls that identify tens of thousands of Canadians was not hatched from the minds of overenthusiastic young Tories. It took considerably higher-level involvement, and a whole lot of bucks, to pull this off. This connects to the political culture around Harper the same way my foot has some distant connection to my thigh.

Harper was brought into office through the decade-long efforts of Alberta oil industry interests, right-wing think tanks, politically connected evangelical groups, US corporate lobbyists/advisors, and national media apparatchiks. Yet I’ll bet even some of these folks – some, not all – have a problem with voter suppression. I have a hard time imagining many Canadians wanting to see their kids grow up in a country where ‘one person, one vote’ is replaced with a Mubarak-like ‘one strongman, screw you’.

On a personal note, I do funny drawings and rants about political figures for a living. In some parts of the world, that kind of gig can get you imprisoned or worse. I have a personal stake in desiring a country that doesn’t muzzle scientists, blow billions on unneeded military jets, define environmentalists as terrorists, spy on Internet users, rubberstamp torture, and imprison backyard gardeners. Or suppress votes. And you do too; because once this sort of thing begins, we have no idea how far down the hole we’ll be taken.

The Vancouver Courier, Mar. 9


  1. Hilary jones

    Thank you so much, Geoff, for your courageous writing! The political landscape in Canada is getting more and more frightening since Harper “won” his majority. I shudder to think how much damage he might do in future.
    I wrote to the Courier to support this column – I actually hesitated about letting them print my name, but decided to follow your example and make a public stand.

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