Harper can weather political robo-stink

The sewers are backing up on Parliament Hill and everyone who is not Conservative is getting a whiff of dirty election politics

The sewers are backing up on Parliament Hill and everyone who is not Conservative is getting a whiff of dirty election politics.

Eleven months ago, in the run up to the May federal election, I penned my first Monday Magazine column on the issue of voter suppression — “disengagement by design.”

Voter suppression comes in many guises, but the most obvious to the electorate a year ago were the venomous and relentless Tory attack ads aimed at hapless Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, the ugly American.

I wrote that “there is one national political party, the Conservatives, that benefits from voter apathy and is actively cultivating it.”

You may recall that Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept insisting that the election was “unnecessary” even though he demanded nothing less than the majority he believed he so richly deserved.

Behind a highly organized, committed and motivated base of support, the Conservatives cultivated disgust and apathy wherever possible, knowing if they could sully the process many non-Tory Canadians would lose interest in voting.

There is a reason why voter suppression has been described as one of the dirty little secrets of political consultants.

A year into Harper’s mandate, the country is learning of a twist on voter suppression — robo-calls — that is utterly failing the political smell test.

In this case the automated robo-calls were falsely telling voters their polling stations had changed. Hundreds of voters in Guelph, Ont. fell for the scam, and now more than 30,000 Canadians from ridings across the nation have raised their own concerns with Elections Canada.

Elections Canada investigators have also been chasing complaints about bogus phone calls made to voters at inconvenient hours from people presenting themselves as Liberal Party workers. To really piss off voters these calls came at supper time, late at night or on the Sabbath for voters with Jewish-sounding names.

Elections Canada has suggested it may ask the RCMP to help. It is also referring some complaints to the CRTC, which has responsibility to police our telephone systems.

As the stench permeates the majority Conservatives, Harper is defiant: “The Conservative Party can say absolutely, definitively, it has no role in any of this.”

However, a disclaimer of sorts came almost immediately when the PM’s staff made it clear the boss was talking about the national campaign and not right-wing zealots fighting individual riding battles.

NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel says: “Ottawa is broken.” Many Canadians agree, and many hope the revelations of the past few weeks will, at the very least, humble and moderate the arrogant Harper Tories.

Forget about it.

A new poll by Nanos Research has found that support for the Tories remains constant at 35.7 per cent. The Liberals climbed two points to 29.5 per cent and Turmel’s NDP remained stalled at 25 per cent. Jobs and the economy are the top of mind issues for most Canadians, not government ethics.

Pollster Nik Nanos says: “Regardless of the noise related to the robo-call affair, there hasn’t been any material impact on Conservative support.”

Despite the media furor, Harper knows this stink does not represent the collapse of western civilization as we know it. He knows he can sit back and weather this political plumbing malfunction. He knows his solid base of supporters crave stable federal government even if they have to hold their noses. M

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