Guy Giorno and Stephen Harper are clearly confident that the Conservative campaign team had nothing to do with dirty tricks involving phone calls in the last election.
The national chair of the Conservative election campaign was emphatic on television Sunday, as the Prime Minister was in the House last week, in declaring no one at the national campaign authorized anyone to commit electoral fraud.
As a general rule, politicians never openly lie, because the consequences of being caught in one just aren’t worth it. (Think Watergate, Monica Lewinsky.) Neither of these men would take that risk.
That doesn’t mean the robo-calls affair is bogus – far from it. The Conservative leadership fostered such a hyper-partisan climate within the party that some person or persons at the riding or even regional level may have felt justified in crossing the line of legality. But this makes Mr. Harper, Mr. Giorno et al morally, not legally, culpable. Voters, not judges, will decide what punishment they deserve.
Before chairing the 2011 election campaign, Mr. Giorno was Mr. Harper’s chief of staff. He got his start in politics helping put together the campaign platform and strategy that brought Mike Harris to power in Ontario.
Both men self-identified at a young age as Conservative underdogs raging against the Liberal machine. They beat the machine, but they and many other Conservatives fear complacency. So even now, no attack ad is too fierce, no gibe too unfair. They will bend the rules to the breaking point and beyond, as they did in the in-and-out scheme to launder national election expenses through local ridings.
But did Mr. Giorno or anyone else in the national campaign authorize people to impersonate Elections Canada officials in order to send Liberal voters to the wrong polling location? “Absolutely not,” he told CTV’s Craig Oliver on Sunday. “Nobody in his right mind running a campaign would have done that.”
Nor did party workers impersonate Liberals in an effort to discredit Liberal campaigns, he said. And he is “as concerned as anybody” at the obvious electoral fraud in Guelph.
“Suppressing the vote is a despicable, reprehensible practice, and everybody ought to condemn it,” Mr. Giorno said.
If you believe Mr. Giorno is telling the truth, then you have to believe that any fraud or misrepresentation on May 2 occurred without the knowledge of campaign headquarters, or happened outside the campaign entirely. Maybe at some training school somebody foolishly said: “You didn’t hear this from me, but here’s one thing you could do…”
But a vast Conservative conspiracy to steal the general election? No.
Beyond that, people who have worked at senior levels on election campaigns, but who prefer not to be identified, say that voter suppression tactics are stupid because they’re inefficient. It is more profitable on election day to mobilize your vote than to try to discourage your opponent’s. Mr. Giorno made much the same point in the interview.
There might be a silver lining in all of this. The abuses of the sponsorship scandal convinced the Liberals to abolish corporate donations to political parties. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the former chief electoral officer, hopes that the robo-call affair will raise the bar for ethical behaviour in future campaigns.
“Canadians will be on the watch and political operatives will be very careful about what they do with our electoral system,” he told Tom Clark on Global TV. “And I think we will see them respecting the law with integrity.”
They should know by now that breaking the rules can land a party in a world of hurt, no matter who did it, or why.