Hey, everyone. Some rather interesting stuff is happening up here in Canada. Election fraud, to be exact. Over 31000 complaints about fraudulent calls to opponents of the Conservative Party have popped up, effecting a quarter of the ridings in Canada, and this is still growing. Investigations are being carried out by the RCMP, Elections Canada, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
If this gets a bit long and tedious for you, there is a condensed summary at the bottom of this post.
In the federal election on the 2nd of May, 2011, Conservative Stephen Harper finally got his majority government (elected dictatorship, basically). At the time, there were some reports of automated calls falsely telling non-Conservative voters that their polling stations had changed, but they were mostly ignored at the time.
Fast forward to February 22nd, 2012. Elections Canada had paid attention. They managed to trace some of the calls in the Guelph, Ontario riding back to RackNine, a call centre that did a bunch of work for the federal Conservative Party.
Liberal and NDP MPs started asking questions in Parliament, and demanding that Harper's Conservatives cooperate with the investigation.
And so, the RoboCon scandal (as named by Andrew Coyne) came to the attention of the public, and the public started reporting more incidents all over the country. Another kind of fraudulent call got reported, involving harassing people with calls falsely claiming to be from the Liberals or the NDP.
Quickly, Harper denied any knowledge of any the calls, and stated his support of the investigation. The Conservatives blamed all of the calls, which require a lot of money and access to information on party affiliations, on an isolated individual of some sort. This changed later. A lot.
Things start getting a bit complicated from here, so I'm going to organize this by topic from now on.
First, the fall guy. On the 24th, young Conservative staffer Michael Sona lost his job over the election fraud mess. Shortly after that resignation, Defence Minister Peter MacKay blamed the entire scandal on Sona, and tried to get the investigations to end with that.
On Sunday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay pointed to Sona's resignation and told CBC News the party doesn't need to investigate any further.The fall guy had been designated. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, in addition to the absurdity of one staffer paying for fraudulent calls in a ton of ridings without any additional source of money and without orders, Sona refused to fall. The Conservatives have abandoned the idea of blaming Sona for now.
"I think they've identified the individual that was involved in this, and this is certainly not something our party condones," he said.
Which brings me to my next topic: the Conservative Party's desperate attempts to deflect suspicion. First came Peter MacKay's attempt to dump the entire scandal on Michael Sona. Then the scandal became a "smear campaign." That attempt to deflect suspicion died down as the next method popped up: blaming the victims! That didn't work well. Basically, some of the fraudulent calls had come from North Dakota. Stephen Harper, along with a few of his high-up MPs, accused the Liberal Party of harassing its own supporters because they had used a call centre in North Dakota. It turned out that the Liberals had used the services of a Canadian company with a similar name to the one in North Dakota, and the Conservatives had confused the two. Oops.
Also part of that attack was the allegation that only the Liberals had used call centres in the US in the May election, and thus must have been the guilty party. That allegation was made by Conservative Dean Del Mastro, who... well... used a US call centre in the May election. Oops.
Next, Responsive Marketing Group and the Quebec payments. On Feb. 27th, employees of RMG, at its Thunder Bay call centre, reported that they had unknowingly made fraudulent calls using scripts from the Conservative Party. RMG is now being probed by Elections Canada.
Responsive Marketing Group's involvement is quite interesting, considering a pair of stories that appeared in the Quebec, French-language newspaper Le Devoir, detailing mysterious payments from Quebec Conservative campaigns to RMG. Basically, in the May election, 14 Quebec Conservative campaigns had sent $15000.01 payments to RMG, on the encouragement/orders of the federal Conservative Party, using money sent from the federal Conservatives. One Quebec candidate, Bertin Denis, even said that no reason was given for the payment and no services were received from RMG in his riding. It's like the In and Out scandal all over again, but under worse circumstances.
What's the In and Out scandal? Well, basically, the federal Conservatives, in the 2006 election, funneled money in and out of local campaigns to pay for more ads than legally allowed and fraudulently receive extra campaign spending reimbursements from Elections Canada. The Conservative Party was eventually convicted of election fraud in 2011, which was apparently a "huge victory" for the Conservatives.
The Quebec payments seem to be that all over again. However, they're also unexplained payments to a call centre involved in the voter suppression mess. What did these payments pay for? Why the extra penny?
Bertin Denis continued making his allegations against the federal Conservatives for a while. Then, as soon as Stephen Harper started getting criticized for the Quebec payments, Denis suddenly recanted his story. He suddenly said he received services from RMG, and that the $15000.01 payment was purely a local campaign payment. Why did he recant? Who shut him up?
To summarize RoboCon so far:
*Over 31000 complaints about fraudulent phone calls have been made for the May 2011 election, effecting a quarter of the ridings in Canada. This is a record number of complaints.
*A few of the fraudulent calls have been traced back to RackNine, a company that works with the Conservatives.
*The Conservatives are flailing around desperately, in a pathetic attempt to deflect suspicion.
*Harper sucks at researching, and managed to confuse a US and a Canadian company in a failed attack against the Liberals.
*Dean Del Mastro has falsely claimed that only the Liberals used US call centres in the May election. He used one himself.
*Michael Sona, Conservative ex-staffer and blatant fall guy, doesn't seem to want to be the fall guy.
*Responsive Marketing Group employees have come out claiming to have made fraudulent calls based on a Conservative Party script.
*14 mysterious $15000.01 payments were sent to RMG from Quebec Conservative campaigns, under the orders of the federal Conservatives.
*Bertin Denis, failed Quebec Conservative candidate, announced that he had been told to send a $15000.01 payment to RMG, for no reason, by the federal Conservatives, and got no services out of it. Then he suddenly recanted that story, as soon as Harper started receiving criticism.
Let's hope the investigations actually get somewhere, and see how high up the party they get.