Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Conservatives doth protest too much

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An astonishingly small total of 5,184 votes in 12 of Canada's 308 federal ridings made the difference between Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "strong, stable, majority Conservative government" of 166 seats and his third round of minority government.

That's 5,184 votes out of a total of 14.59 million ballots cast.

Here are those 12 constituencies:

-- Nipissing-Temiskaming -- 18 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Etobicoke Centre -- 26 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Labrador -- 79 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Yukon -- 132 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Elmwood-Transcona -- 300 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar -- 538 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Bramalea-Gore-Malton -- 539 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Don Valley West -- 611 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Mississauga East-Cooksville -- 676 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Winnipeg South Centre -- 722 votes, Conservative over Liberal.

-- Palliser -- 766 votes, Conservative over NDP.

-- Lotbinière-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière -- 777 votes, Conservative over NDP.

Nor does the hairsbreadth victory end with the miniscule 5,184 votes in 12 ridings. The Conservatives got the extra breathing room of an additional two close seats thanks to a 794-vote victory over the NDP in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River and a 870-vote margin over the Liberals in Don Valley East.

A party needs 155 of Parliament's 308 seats to claim a majority. The Conservatives' "strong, stable, majority government" rests on a miniscule 6,848 ballots cast in 14 of Canada's 308 ridings.

Elections Canada is now struggling under an unprecedented deluge of 31,000 individual citizen complaints over various forms of classic voter-suppression techniques, the most sinister and despicable being deliberately depriving people of their right to vote by sending them miles away to wrong or non-existent polling stations.

Voter suppression has a long and ignoble history in the U.S., especially the intimidation of African-Americans in the Deep South throughout most of the last century. Voter suppression, American-style, began with Ku Klux Klan cross-burnings and murder and ended with literacy tests and finally, the U.S. Supreme Court-brokered Florida "hanging chad" victory by Republican George Bush in the 2000 presidential race and the suspected massive electoral fraud in Ohio in his 2004 re-election campaign.

As Canada's robocall election scandal widens and deepens, the shadows of the two top U.S. Republican practitioners of the dark political arts, Frank Luntz and Roger Ailes -- both of whom have counselled Harper's Conservatives -- loom ever larger over the Canadian political landscape.

Why Canada has been plunged into this political moral and ethical swamp can be traced back to a speech Harper made to the far-right Civitas society in 2003. Harper sees politics as a Manichean struggle between good and evil -- between Christian morality and the left's moral relativism if not nihilism.

Harper told his audience the real challenge facing conservatism is "not economic, but the social agenda of the modern left. Its system of moral relativism, moral neutrality and moral equivalency is beginning to dominate its intellectual debate and public policy objectives."

Our prime minister appears ready to launch a modern crusade to purge Canada of socialists and, especially, his arch-nemesis, the morally relative, morally neutral and morally equivalent Liberals.

Jean Pierre Kingsley, Canada's chief electoral officer from 1990 to 2007, says the allegations of systematic voter suppression, now encompassing as many as 50 constituencies, are unprecedented in Canada's electoral history.

"You cannot fool around with the constitutional right to vote as Canadians," he said in an interview. "We must know how extensive this was. We must know who perpetrated it. And we must know who -- if it's one, we want to know, if it's 10, we want to know -- is there any tie-in with anyone else."

Kingsley says he has "never seen anything of this ilk, never seen anything like this is Canada. If a judge overturns the election in one riding and it is demonstrated that the calls occurred in 10 or 12 ridings, then this will have major repercussions for our democratic system no matter who is behind the effort."

Harper's parliamentary secretary, Dean del Mastro, the government's point man on the robocall scandal, ceaselessly protests Conservative innocence while claiming his own riding was targeted by a party he never identifies.

The most implausible accusation comes from Conservative communications director Fred DeLorey.

He says Conservatives were not the only ones using calling companies and that some of the complaints involved people claiming to be calling on behalf of the Liberal Party.

The Conservatives apparently expect Canadians to believe the perennially poverty-stricken Liberals, facing a historic third-place defeat, were using their scant financial resources to harass their own voters to so infuriate them they wouldn't show up to vote.

The Conservatives need to find a better defence than that.

Frances Russell is a Winnipeg

author and political commentator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2012 A10

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