The Ottawa Citizen‘s Glen McGregor and Postmedia’s Stephen Maher have spent a great deal of time digging away at what in Ottawa is called the “robocall” story, a story that reports on incidents of the use of automated telephone calls during the 2011 election. McGregor and Maher’s reporting has won them acclaim from their peers in the form of many awards mostly (I believe anyway) for the creativity and doggedness in which they’ve tried to sort out what is a complicated story about what will turn out to be either a marginal event in the 2011 election or an epic event in the 2011 election.
Elections Canada is investigating many of the allegations of potential skulduggery that McGregor and Maher report on and, nearly two years after the election, Elections Canada appears set to recommend the laying of some sort of charge. (We know that because McGregor and Maher reported it.)
And, today, partly as a result of their work, Elections Canada is recommending Parliament introduce some new laws that Elections Canada says will help prevent any future problems. The Harper government says it will review the recommendations but might — or might not — have its own ideas about this issue.
Now, I mentioned up top that the Robocall affair will either be marginal or epic — largely depending on what investigators come up with and can prove in court. The Council of Canadians believe this to be epic, arguing in court that there was a massive conspiracy organized by the Conservative Party of Canada to use robocalls to suppress the votes of non-Conservatives and, in doing so, win ridings it otherwise would not.
A new book says McGregor and Maher, iPolitics.ca columnist Michael Harris and others in the Parliamentary Press Gallery are “grassy-knoll types” for buying into this meme, most loudly advanced by the Council of Canadians, that runs though the Robocall reporting that somehow the majority government of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives is illegitimate. No, this book is not by Ezra Levant or Brian Lilley who, at times have had very public fights with McGregor (particularly) and Maher (less so) but is, in fact, by none other than the award-winning Chief Political Correspondent of The Globe and Mail John Ibbitson and Ipsos Global Public Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker.
In their book, The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means For Our Future, Ibbitson and Bricker have a chapter titled “The Decline of the Laurentian Media: Why it doesn’t matter if the press gallery doesn’t like Stephen Harper”. In that chapter there is this section:
Some parliamentary correspondents were so chagrined by the election results that they simply refuse to accept it. Early in 2012, Postmedia Network reporters Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor uncovered evidence that a rogue campaign official appeared to be behind automated calls to Liberal supporters in the Ontario riding of Guelph, directing voters to nonexistent polling stations … Stephen Harper declared unequivocally in the House that whatever had happened, campaign headquarters had neither authorized it nor known about it. But for some journalists, Robogate — as they inevitably dubbed the story — proved that the Conservatives were guilty of a massive conspiracy to obtain their majority government through fraud. These grassy-knoll types were further emboldened when a judge voided the result in Etobicoke Centre, on the grounds that votes had been cast there that couldn’t be authenticated.
“Just how many other improperly registered votes got into the ballot box that night?” asked Michael Harris at iPolitics.com [sic] “How did they get there? Robogate has focused on subtraction or voter suppression — votes that never made it to the ballot box. But what if there was voter addition — votes that got there the same way that stuffing gets into a turkey?”
In the end, the Supreme Court upheld the election results. But for Harris, and for some of his colleagues, the allegations of voter fraud confirmed a deep conviction that the Harper government was illegitimate, that it didn’t deserve to govern, and that it could not possibly be in power through legitimate means.
This conviction of illegitimacy has long been a feature in the political coverage of conservative governments … Conservative governments in the eyes of Laurentian reporters, are different. Genuinely Conservative governments do not belong in Canada. They do not reflect real Canadian values. Real Canadians don’t vote Conservative.
Such visceral distaste for the Harper government from some journalists discredits their bylines. For one thing, it insults the intelligence of readers who vote Conservative. For another, it is a gross exaggeration of Tory crimes or misdemeanours. There is no question that the Conservatives play hardball during elections and in between them. More than once, the party has fallen afoul of elections Canada and been punished for it …The Tories have perfected the art of the political attack ad, and practise that art against their foes with particular viciousness.
But it is ludicrous to suggest that they rigged the 2011 election. Polling data were in line with the election results. The riding of Guelph, ground zero for the Robocalls affair, was actually won by the Liberals….
On Twitter today Ibbitson and Bricker offered some clarifications:
— John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson) March 28, 2013
— Darrell Bricker (@darrellbricker) March 28, 2013