SLACKENING MEDIA INTEREST IN ROBOCALLS SURREAL BUT SICKENING

ImageIt’s more surreal than Salvador Dali’s lobster landline  telephone.

Last Saturday a small group of demonstrators with signs, banners, and the inevitable Guy Fawkes masks marched through the rain, from the Vancouver Art Gallery to the central library and back. It was the latest round of local protests over the robocall scandal.

One speaker pointed to the absurd fact that Canada now joins two other countries currently embroiled in claims of election fraud: Kenya and Senegal.

Past national scandals that have consumed so much press attention, from the Quebec Sponsorship program to the Airbus affair, all pale in comparison. Yet within weeks of the first robocall revelations, the media attention began to wane, even as the evidence mounted of a coordinated, nation-wide scheme of vote suppression.

As Elections Canada quietly conducts its investigation, it’s all so “early March” now. Even when the scandal was still front-page news, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente insisted that “it’s ridiculous to think there was some massive cheating scheme engineered by higher-ups” in our “boring little democracy.” Sun media fixture Michel Coren dismissed it as “a few silly phone calls.” Kelly McParland in The National Post mused over “a scandalous absence of scandal in robocalls scandal.”

Are some of Canada’s pundits wearing mittens to consult Braille editions of their own newspapers? The Globe and Mail reported that Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has testified that complaints of bogus election calls were received from 200 of Canada’s 308 ridings. That’s all 10 provinces plus one territory. There have been reports of live and automated calls falsely claiming to be from the Liberal Party; abusive calls, racist calls mimicking ethnic accents, and/or late-night phone calls from live callers, were all part of the mix.

What do we need here, flashing highway signs pointing due east?

Edmonton-based ISP RackNine, the company linked to some robocalls in Quebec and Ontario, had a contract with the Conservative Party to do business with no other party. (RackNine itself has been cleared of wrongdoing; it’s the identities of those who used its services that’s under investigation.) In Guelph, the Conservative campaign of Marty Burke was found to have used 2call.ca, a subsidiary of RackNine, to phone in and record messages. In this riding alone, Elections Canada has noted 7,600 robocalls misdirecting voters to the wrong voting station, and is reportedly close to identifying the name attached to the Guelph robocall account, through records obtained from Rogers Communications.

“History doesn’t repeat itself- at best it sometimes rhymes,” Mark Twain insisted. The votesuppression scandal may be unprecedented in Canada, but not in North America. Cast your mind back to the Bush/Gore debacle of 2000, and the documented evidence of federal vote fraud during that year’s presidential election, including the purging of 94,000 voters (half of them African-American) from Florida election rolls. After the U.S. Supreme Court terminated a recount of paper ballots from Miami-Dade, giving the state to the Republicans, George W. Bush was swept into office with a 537-vote lead over Al Gore.

And the rest is history: a phony war based on fictitious WMDs, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Katrina, further deregulation of Wall Street, the gutting of the American middle class, warrantless surveillance, and all the rest.

From hemlines to headlines, virtually every meme in the U.S.- “cradle of the best and the worst” in Leonard Cohen’s words-catches on across the border. So we’d be naïve to think Canada would be immune to Republican-style dirty tricks. In any case, the WHO behind the robocalls, whether its Tory political operatives, democracy-deterring spooks, or Keebler elves, is less pressing than the WHAT and the HOW. In many ridings across the nation, Harper’s majority hinged on victories of less than 1,000 votes. Ergo, the robocall scandal seriously calls into question the legitimacy of the last federal election and Harper’s majority government.

A few faces looked familiar at the Vancouver March robocall protests. I took the crossover with the local Occupy movement as a measure of our messed-up times. While a number of our national pundits do their best to minimize the robocall scandal, so-called “radical activists” and “professional protesters” are the ones visibly agitating for the bedrock democratic value of one person, one vote.

Remember that next time our wise leaders and their media-based apologists lecture you about warring for “free elections” and “democracy” in Afghanistan or anywhere else.

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