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Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)
Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

Do Conservatives now think they have carte blanche on dirty tricks? Add to ...

There’s disappointment, and understandably so, that House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer didn’t find that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s privilege as an MP was abused by the Conservative phone skullduggery carried out in his riding.

No doubt there are legitimate precedents Mr. Scheer was able to draw on to come to the conclusion he did. But it is also fair to wonder, since he called the behaviour in question “reprehensible,” if another finding wasn’t also within his reach.

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However, the fact the Speaker has decided he can’t sanction the Conservatives in this matter, doesn’t mean the whole episode has to fade to black. Nor should it. People of whatever political stripe who care about reasonable conduct in Canada’s political life might want to press on with a couple of outstanding questions.

1. Does the leadership of the Conservative Party interpret the ruling as carte blanche to do more of this kind of “wet-work”? If this tactic were carried out on a broader scale, would anyone really think it is nothing more than sporting politics? (As an aside, do we really think the Speaker would have arrived at the same decision if the tactic was used against 50 or 100 opposition MPs?)

2. Do other leading Conservatives share the views of Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, who said that the calls made into Mr. Cotler’s riding were vital free speech and a sign of good health in our democracy? If Mr. Van Loan truly is speaking for cabinet… well, that would be kind of frightening. If not, he should seek an opportunity to step back from that argument and acknowledge that a line was crossed.

In the end, apart from Mr. Cotler (whose constituents might take careful note of this episode, including the “shadow MP” on the public payroll), those who may have the most at stake are rank and file Conservatives.

This tactic and the risible defence offered by Mr. Van Loan shames them. Over more than two decades, I’ve listened to thousands of people in focus groups. I doubt if I’ve run into more than a handful who think this kind of “kill or be killed” ethos is what they are looking for from their representatives in Ottawa. I know plenty of Conservatives, including many who enjoy bare-knuckle politics; I've yet to hear one of them echo Mr. Van Loan's defence in this matter.

Shining a light on, and calling out this behaviour is important, and it's great that a significant number of news organizations and journalists have devoted more time and ink to it. Despite the frenetic pace of the modern news cycle, this kind of politics deserves more than the equivalent of a two-minute minor, or else the clutching, grabbing and slashing will grow worse – and the interest of voters shrink even more.

The Speaker’s ruling notwithstanding, there are plenty of ways for voters who think this behaviour must stop, to get that message to Mr. van Loan and the Conservative leadership.

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