The Commons: Let us debate that which is unsubstantiated - Macleans.ca

The Commons: Let us debate that which is unsubstantiated

Whatever happened, the Conservatives had nothing to do with it

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The Scene. After tracing the necessarily circuitous route to her question, Nycole Turmel was as straightforward as she can be.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday on CBC, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary said the Conservative party was investigating the allegations of election fraud. An hour later, on Sun TV, he said the Conservatives were not conducting an investigation,” the interim leader of the opposition recounted. “Could the Prime Minister tell us which it is? Are the Conservatives investigating, yes or no?”

Could the Prime Minister? Theoretically speaking, yes. Would he? Practically speaking, no.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative party has made available, from the beginning, all information to Elections Canada,” Mr. Harper said. “The Conservative party can say absolutely, definitively, it has no role in any of this.”

On what basis can the government say this? It is difficult to say.

Speaking to the CBC yesterday, Dean Del Mastro, the aforementioned parliamentary secretary, seemed to confirm that the party had looked into the allegations, but speaking to Sun News, Mr. Del Mastro said there was no internal investigation. Last weekend, Peter MacKay said he thought that “they’ve”—whoever they are—”identified the individual that was involved in this” and that “that individual is no longer in the employment of the party.” Perhaps the Defence Minister was relying on unconfirmed news reports, but the only individual publicly known to have resigned from the government in the last week—Michael Sona—says he had “no involvement” in the fraudulent calls.

So the Conservatives may have looked into the allegations, but they’ve not necessarily conducted an investigation. And if they have figured out who is responsible, they haven’t said who that is. Except to say that they’re quite sure the Conservative party had nothing to do with it.

The opposition parties remain less-than-convinced of this certainty. Keeping with yesterday’s explanations, Ms. Turmel recalled that the government side said it called its supporters to notify them of changes in polling stations. But, Ms. Turmel said, some of the ridings in questions did not witness changes in polling stations. “Will the Prime Minister confirm that the calls were made in ridings where no change of polling station was planned?” she asked.

He would not. Her would only say that the Conservatives had provided “all” information to Elections Canada and it was his conclusion that the NDP was engaged in a “smear campaign.”

On this matter of information provided, Ms. Turmel wondered what precisely Mr. Harper’s party had turned over. Mr. Harper would not say, except to say “all.” “It is interesting that the NDP says it has provided information to Elections Canada,” he added. “Elections Canada has since said there was almost no complaints during the election.”

An investigation might be in order to determine how the Prime Minister generally defines the phrase “almost no.” As of last September, Elections Canada had catalogued 119 complaints related to phone calls, including 30 that involved calls about polling stations.

Pat Martin then unleashed his eyebrows and his vocabulary upon the government side, haranguing them about the “moral authority to govern” and “treachery.”

Dean Del Mastro, having a day earlier denied the existence of Edmonton East during a television interview, thus stood to deny the existence of anything that might suggest something untoward. “We just heard the leader of the opposition indicate that they have made all their evidence public,” he reported. “I guess we would have to conclude then, based on what they have made public, that this is nothing but an unsubstantiated smear campaign on behalf of the NDP, and they should withdraw all their comments in this regard.”

Mr. Martin was undaunted. Indeed, he was moved to analogy. “Mr. Speaker, let us get this straight,” he pleaded. “We have the gun sitting here and we have this plume of smoke hanging over the gun, but the Conservatives say there is no proof that the smoke is in any way related to the gun.”

The proof, Mr. Martin ventured, “is coming in by the hour, every day, to our offices of constituents reporting that their right to cast their ballot was interfered with on election day.”

Mr. Del Mastro was unimpressed. “This is an unsubstantiated smear campaign led by the opposition parties,” he said. “They have absolutely nothing to back up what they have said.”

Bob Rae duly stood here to list off various complaints: calls made to Jewish voters on Friday nights and Saturdays, calls at terribly late hours, all purporting to be from the Liberal party. “If this happened in one riding, we would say it was just a prank. If it happened to be two, it might be a coincidence,” the interim Liberal leader guessed, chopping his hand and jabbing his finger and raising his voice. “When it happens in over 30 ridings, the explanation has to come from the Conservative party with respect to what was going on.”

Mr. Harper repeated his claim that Elections Canada “received virtually none of these complaints” and suggested that Mr. Rae was just upset that a majority of Jewish voters had cast their ballots for the Conservative party.

“Where is the beef?” the Prime Minister begged. “Where is the proof?”

So nothing is certain. Except that which each side is certain of.

The Stats. Ethics, 20 questions. Government spending, seven questions. Bilingualism, crime and military procurement, two questions each. Aboriginal affairs, mining, health care, the environment and infrastructure, one question each.

Dean Del Mastro, nine answers. Stephen Harper, six answers. Pierre Poilievre, five answers. Denis Lebel, three answers. Tony Clement, Gerry Ritz, Jacques Gourde, Rob Nicholson and Julian Fantino, two answers each. Diane Finley, Greg Rickford, Lisa Raitt, Leona Aglukkaq and Joe Oliver, one answer each.