Make of this what you will: Faced with an unprecedented number of allegations of electoral fraud in the 2011 election – more than 1,400 complaints from more than 200 ridings – Elections Canada has responded by hiring not a single extra investigator to track down the culprits.
The agency had nine investigators last year. It still has nine, spokesman John Enright confirmed, although it plans to add two entry-level investigators in coming months. It faces no budgetary restrictions for hiring in such a probe. It could employ 100 extra investigators if it wished.
Does this leave the impression that it’s failing to pursue the scandal vigorously enough? Not at all, according to Mr. Enright. He said the current resources, supplemented by some outside police work, have been sufficient.
The Elections Canada probe is one avenue of inquiry in the vote suppression case. A second is journalistic enterprise. A third is the court case that opened Monday in Ottawa. Voters from six ridings, backed by the Council of Canadians, are asking a Federal Court judge to overturn the election results in their constituencies, alleging that misleading Conservative phone calls tried to prevent Canadians from voting.
But don’t hold your breath on this one. The bid is a long shot for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the case is proceeding before the results of Elections Canada’s investigation (which could provide key evidence) are in. The lawyer for the applicants, Steven Shrybman, has received some help from the agency in the form of documents detailing allegations from voters in many ridings. But asking for election results to be overturned is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking. The Supreme Court recently rejected a bid to have a result in Etobicoke Centre thrown out, setting a very high bar in so doing for anyone trying it.
Elections Canada and news media have established that a large number of calls providing wrong polling station information went out to many ridings across the country. Internal e-mails from the campaign’s last days show that Elections Canada confronted the Conservatives about the calls shortly before the May 2 vote. Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton denied any wrongdoing.
The same Mr. Hamilton was defending the Conservatives in court on Monday. The case pivots to some degree on a poll by Frank Graves of Ekos Research, which purports to show that calls went not just to Conservative voters but in much larger numbers to non-Conservatives. Mr. Hamilton spent much time trying to undermine Mr. Graves’s credibility, going so far as to cite his alleged lack of reporting of minor contributions to Liberals several years ago. This raised the ire of the judge, who had Mr. Graves step out of the courtroom while he admonished Mr. Hamilton for taking the matter too far.
But for the applicants to win the case they will need far more than a valid opinion poll. Despite their claims of misdirection, all six of the applicants ended up voting in 2011. Mr. Shrybman is arguing that it is the intent that counts.
As for the Elections Canada investigation, there are questions as to whether the new commissioner of the agency, Yves Côté, has the courage to press hard on the case. A former associate deputy justice minister who worked closely with Minister Rob Nicholson, Mr. Côté is viewed as a cautious bureaucrat.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have a history of finding their way out of tight corners. They are in a very tight one now, but may emerge relatively unscathed again. The odds favour them on the court case and Elections Canada doesn’t appear to be making much progress in their probe. That leaves journalistic enterprise. Some in the media are going after the story. Others are giving it a pass – to the Conservatives’ delight.