What's happened to my country? I went away for a couple of weeks and all hell broke loose. I came back to find that someone named Poutine stole the last election. At first I thought this was a typo, that they meant Putin. But no. It turns out that Russia is a shining beacon of democracy compared to Canada. Apparently, our country has been hijacked by "the most comprehensive electoral fraud in our nation's history" (Pat Martin, NDP critic). Voter suppression – lying, cheating and general chicanery – has driven us into "uncharted waters" (Bob Rae, Liberal Leader).
I certainly don't wish to make light of voter fraud. But this fraud seems to have been engineered by the Keystone Kops. Not a single voter claims to have been prevented from voting. No ballot boxes appear to have been stuffed. Nobody was fraudulently elected. There weren't even any hanging chads. Elections Canada says 31,000 Canadians have complained, but the vast majority of these complaints ("somebody called me at 10 p.m.") seem trivial.
The dirty trickster at the heart of this evil scheme turns out to be someone with the nom de plume of Pierre Poutine (real identity unknown). Mr. Poutine and his henchmen were not personally directed by Stephen Harper but are widely thought to have been channelling him. In Guelph, Ont., they engineered a bunch of robo-calls that directed people to show up at non-existent voting stations. This tactic was evidently intended to discourage people who didn't support the Conservatives from voting. It was so effective that the Liberal candidate won by a margin of 11 per cent.
In other ridings, it's alleged, Conservatives posing as Liberals made rude phone calls to voters at inconvenient times. The idea was to irritate people so much that they'd stay home. There's no sign that it worked.
"From the point of view of anybody concerned about our political system, it's a non-scandal," says Michael Bliss, the eminent historian. But parliamentary politics is such a bear pit that, in the absence of a real scandal (such as the sponsorship affair), a non-scandal will have to do. Opposition politicians, along with a fair portion of the media, have clamped on to the Harper government like a pack of rabid chihuahuas. They've escalated the rhetoric so much that you've got to wonder what they'll say when a real scandal comes along.
Yet, they also know they're playing to the crowd. Just check out the letters pages, or the media comment sites, to get a taste of the vitriol this story has unleashed. A substantial number of Canadians believe Mr. Harper really did steal the 2011 election, in spirit if not in fact, and as far as they're concerned, the robo-calling scandal just confirms it. "A lot of people – especially Liberals – simply cannot accept the legitimacy of the Conservatives being in power," says Mr. Bliss. In Canada, just as in the United States, political polarization is on the upswing. And for a variety of reasons, the Harper government has failed to bridge the gap between the 40 per cent who voted for the Conservatives and the 60 per cent who didn't.
We expect our elections to be squeaky clean, and that's a good thing. Obviously, there were election irregularities in Guelph, and maybe elsewhere, and Elections Canada needs to find out what happened and who did it. But it's ridiculous to think there was some massive cheating scheme engineered by higher-ups. We're not Russia after all. It's unpopular to say so, but we're just a boring little democracy that usually functions pretty well.