Sunday, February 26, 2012

Robocalls: Making the Case for Engagement

Much has been written over the past few days about the use of robocalls, particularly during the 2011 federal election. We have all had them. Usually during dinner. Their timing is great...#sarcasm

At the heart of the story are a growing number of allegations that robocalls were targeted at Liberal and NDP voters in swing ridings, informing them that the polling station had changed. These calls have been traced to a company in Edmonton with ties to the Conservative party.

At this time it is not clear who was responsible for these calls, nor whether they were part of a Conservative party-orchestrated plan to mislead or disenfranchise those who would typically vote for other parties (text vetted by crack team of A Guy Watching Politics lawyers). However, should the allegations be proven it would not bode well for the image of the Conservative party.

Now let's be honest with one another. There is no real chance that anything will change on the Hill between now and the next federal election. We will not re-cast our votes, regardless of how any debate or investigation might play out.

Yes, the government could be embarrassed. Potentially people could lose their jobs, and perhaps face criminal charges. But the government will remain the government until as late as 2016.


If you were the government and you had to choose when to have a scandal emerge, this would be the time. Unlike the Auditor General findings which unleashed the sponsorship scandal in the later years of a Liberal mandate, this issue comes at the beginning of a Conservative one. All to say, they have time on their side.

This is where you come in, dear voter.

These allegations are part of a pattern; a pattern of a party which remains in perpetual campaign mode. As much as the election around the corner flowed from successive minority Parliaments, it also flowed from a Conservative government which has never seemed able to resist its more base, partisan instincts.

It is also a pattern characterized by an avoidance of accountability and a rejection of the principles upon which the Conservative party first successfully won power - accountability, transparency, and the elimination of scandal from Ottawa.

This is why we need to remain engaged. These issues are not just about things that happen in Ottawa.

- Misleading voters about the plans of a sitting MP is, in the Speaker's words, reprehensible.
- Labelling opponents of legislation with child pornographers is despicable.
- And supporting (or turning a blind eye) to efforts to disenfranchise those would vote against you is borderline criminal.

The government is not going to change between now and 2016. But we can. We need to be more vigilant and engaged. The voter should not fall victim to the idiom that time heals all wounds; that in four years time no one will remember or care.

We need to challenge ourselves to define what we expect of government, and then explore all efforts to hold government to account. This is what engagement means.

Thank-you robocalls for the reminder.

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