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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

Where's the intrepid Poirot in a case like robo-calls? Add to ...

Where’s Hercule Poirot when we need him? The victims – defeated opposition party candidates – are known. The weapons – computerized telephone calls designed to infuriate voters – have been indentified. But whose hand, my dear Poirot, was wrapped around the knife?

Like an Agatha Christie story, the robo-call mystery has played itself out with accusations, suspicions, denials, allegations and pieces of evidence – but no fingerprints. Outside the theatre of Parliament, the economy is rocky, crime is falling while new measures against it are proposed, bombs might soon fall on Iran, the euro crisis continues and Ontario’s economy is reeling, but, inside the chamber and in the media, it has been robo-call all the time.

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Had M. Poirot been summoned to investigate this case, the intrepid detective’s suspicions might have led him to interrogate Stephen Harper’s Conservatives as possible hatchers of such a dastardly scheme to mislead voters.

After all, the Conservatives have displayed themselves as the party of unprecedented nasty attack ads against opposition leaders between elections, dirty tricks in the form of phone calls in Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s riding telling people he might not run again, targeted radio ads against opponents of scrapping the long-gun registry, and the party’s in-and-out electoral financing scheme that ran afoul of election laws.

It would appear to be very much like the modern Conservative Party’s “take no prisoners” approach to partisan politics to encourage others, if not to organize itself, a robo-call scheme whereby targeted voters were told false information. This is, after all, the party of total political war, all the time and by many means.

And yet, my dear Poirot, everyone from the Conservative side protests their party’s innocence. Not us, they say, from Prime Minister Stephen Harper – “absolutely, definitely,” he said this week. Pure as the driven snow, we are. Someone else must have been behind the calls.

Perhaps the New Democrats organized the calls, suggest the Conservatives. Maybe they did the deed for reasons so obscure that even you, M. Poirot, who has heard every conceivable explanation, would chuckle. Or maybe, as was suggested on Thursday by Mr. Harper’s parliamentary secretary, the real culprit is the Liberal Party. The Liberals have used robo-call companies, the House learned. Perhaps the Liberals were up to their own dirty tricks – against themselves!

That calls were made, thousands of them, to various ridings is known. That the calls came from certain companies that specialize in such matters is known. That some of these operations have been used for other purposes by the Conservatives is known. But, M. Poirot, it remains a bridge too far in the face of the denials from the party’s highest levels that the Conservatives were involved directly or indirectly in this rather massive affair.

Clearly, someone with an inordinately shrewd knowledge of individual candidates from the opposition parties did the deed. Calls were of a particular nature, depending on the riding, hinting at things related to an opposition party candidate. This kind of information doesn’t come from a telephone directory.

This wasn’t the usual robo-call operation – like the one that starts with a boat whistle inviting you to a seminar about a cruise. Those calls are all the same, all the time. These robo-calls, by contrast, were customized. Who would have had the motivation, and who would have had the knowledge, to organize such an operation? You, M. Poirot, the untangler of so many cases, can help.

This affair will peter out, as most unsolved mysteries do, without more direct and explosive information. The sheer scale of the robo-calls is such as to overwhelm the investigative arm of Elections Canada. The RCMP lacks your genius, M. Poirot, for sniffing out things. Furthermore, the Canadian cops are concentrating on only a limited number of, shall we say, indiscretions.

The current investigative capabilities are clearly inadequate to the task at hand. Parliamentarians are very good at barking; they’re very bad at investigating. Whereas it was you, my dear Poirot, who said: “I am the dog who stays on the scent and does not leave it.” Where are you when we need you?

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