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Lawrence Martin (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

LAWRENCE MARTIN

Are the Conservatives lifting tactics from the GOP? Add to ...

“Across the country,” Barack Obama was saying last week in a speech in New York, “Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.”

The President accused the GOP of using voter fraud as a pretext to introduce strict identity checks to limit the Democratic core vote. Rarely have voting rights been under such threat, he said, describing how voter fraud is hardly widespread.

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It’s quite a coincidence. Anyone acquainted with the much-ridiculed Fair Elections Act here in Canada will no doubt draw parallels. U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder is waging a fight to block such Republican measures. Our government is waging a fight to introduce them.

Stricter voter ID laws are just one of the ways Republicans have been attempting to limit the vote, especially among minorities and the socially disadvantaged. There are many other tactics that might sound familiar to Canadian ears: Phone-jamming schemes, abusive calls about opponents, misinformation campaigns in which voters are given incorrect dates. Evidence suggests these tactics have increasingly been in play since the big payoff – the 2000 election, when the Republicans won Florida and the White House with the help of vote suppression.

Here, Elections Canada has been investigating similar-sounding tactics from the 2011 election campaign. It wasn’t incorrect dates that were sent out – our charlatans, whoever they were, seem to have preferred incorrect poll locations.

In states such as North Carolina and Ohio, such tactics have been increasing in prevalence. Who exactly is behind them is hard to pin down, but some point to GOP-affiliated groups. In Canada, there are doubts about the architects as well. In a ruling early last year, a Federal Court judge ruled that the source was someone who had access to the Conservative Party’s database.

One tactic here that is not so noticeable in GOP precincts is smear campaigns against election administrators. Pierre Poilievre, that cordial fellow who authored the Fair Elections Act, accused Elections Canada officials of wearing “team jerseys.” This type of tarring – suggesting that anyone who crosses them is in the employ of the opposition – is customary practice for the Conservatives.

Mr. Poilievre followed with another cheap shot last week, depicting Elections Canada boss Marc Mayrand as a power monger who wants a bigger budget and less accountability.

Many are wondering – why the personal assault? Why not stick to the issues? Perhaps because there is an Elections Canada report coming out within a few months that should address dirty tricks, black ops and robocalls from the 2011 election. If the long Elections Canada investigation brings forward findings that are heavily damaging to the Conservatives, it may well be to their benefit to have undermined Mr. Mayrand as fully as possible in advance. “See, we told you he was working for the other side!”

They will likely try to rile up their base and launch lawsuits – they’ve spent $480-million on outside legal advice since coming to power – to fight back. In their elections bill, which former auditor-general Sheila Fraser has described as an “attack on our democracy,” there are measures to limit Elections Canada’s investigative powers.

In Canada, we haven’t yet reached the level of political polarization seen in the U.S. in recent years. But we’re getting close. “Divide and conquer” is another tactic the Republicans and some Canadian Conservatives have in common. The Conservatives have many ties with the GOP. How many and what they entail is something we need to know.

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