The Commons: The yellow piece of paper

Dean Del Mastro's notes tell him voters have been demeaned

The Scene. Immediately after Question Period, Dean Del Mastro stood to complain that the phrase “exaggerated prevarications,” which had been directed at him by the NDP’s Charlie Angus, was unparliamentary.

Regardless of whether this was inbounds—Mr. Angus argued it was and offered to produce a dictionary definition to prove it—it was most certainly an attack, though perhaps not one that Mr. Del Mastro can claim to take personally. At least so long as he seems to be merely the conduit for what is written on a yellow piece of paper.

On the yellow piece of paper that sat atop Mr. Del Mastro’s desk this day seemed to be written something like the following.

“These outrageous and exaggerated allegations made by the member opposite demean millions of voters who cast legitimate votes in the last election. The opposition paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of phone calls … Before continuing these baseless smears, they should prove their own callers are not behind these reports.”

Lacking an elevator in which to escape to, the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister committed eight versions of this—an ad-libbed sentence here, a different adjective there—to the official record this afternoon.

Barely two recitations into the hour, the NDP’s Charlie Angus already sounded weary. “Mr. Speaker, there is only one party in this House that has been busted for electoral fraud,” he sighed in his aging punk rocker lilt. “These Conservatives tried to bilk the taxpayers out of $800,000 with their dodgy election filings in 2006. They were busted and forced to cop a plea and after years of stalling justice, they have had to pay the taxpayers their $230,000. Canadians are looking for a bit of contrition. Just like in this robo-fraud scandal. Now that the investigation is widening, will they stop playing games and come clean about their role in interfering with the rights of Canadians to vote?”

Mr. Del Mastro stood and dutifully repeated his lines. Baseless smears, extreme allegations, demeaning voters and so forth. But instead of merely suggesting the opposition parties needed to prove they weren’t responsible for the phone calls they now complain about, Mr. Del Mastro went ahead and declared them guilty.

“The opposition, in fact, paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of phone calls,” he reported. “We believe they are the source of these reports.”

This last sentence seemed not to be on the yellow piece of paper, at least insofar as Mr. Del Mastro dared not repeat it the rest of the day.

Here Mr. Angus mocked the parliamentary secretary with public pity. “Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary sure is a trooper,” Mr. Angus called. “He will read whatever lines the PMO gives him.”

Then a pop culture reference. “However, when it comes to robo-fraud, his attacks are about as effective as the black knight from the Monty Python sketch,” Mr. Angus mocked. “This would be funny if it were not so serious. We are talking about an investigation into electoral fraud in Nipissing—Timiskaming, Kingston, Guelph and Thunder Bay.”

And then that polysyllabic slur. “Does he not understand that his exaggerated prevarications demean the millions of Canadian people who have cast legitimate votes in this last election?”

Mr. Del Mastro managed that this matter was “not a joke” before retreating to his script.

Two more rounds with Mr. Del Mastro and then, perhaps belatedly, the Liberals got specific.

“Last week I was contacted by a voter who told me she received two calls during the election campaign. The first call was a live call asking her if she was going to vote Conservative. She replied she would not. Then, close to election day, she received a robocall telling her her polling station had changed,” Francis Scarpaleggia reported.

There were chuckles and chirps from the Conservative side, various government members apparently unimpressed with Mr. Scarpaleggia’s evidence.

“I would like to know how the Prime Minister would explain this strange coincidence?” the Liberal asked. “Also, how would he explain it given the fact that there were no Liberal robocalls in Lac-Saint-Louis during the election campaign?”

Despite this preemptive rebuttal to the yellow piece of paper’s contention, Mr. Del Mastro dutifully repeated the suggestion that the Liberals or New Democrats were responsible.

Judy Foote next moved to identify an accuser by name. “Mr. Speaker, according to media reports, Peggy Walsh Craig of Nipissing received a phone call during the 2011 election campaign asking her if she intended to vote Conservative, to which she said no. She received a second call just prior to election day claiming to be from Elections Canada to tell her that her polling station had moved,” Ms. Foote recounted.

Across the way, Heritage Minister James Moore seemed to dismiss Ms. Foote’s evidence.

“The Conservative MP from Nipissing won only by 18 votes,” the Liberal continued. “Can the Prime Minister categorically tell Ms. Walsh Craig and other voters in her riding that no one associated with his party had anything to do with this?”

Mr. Del Mastro was moved enough to acknowledge the “outstanding new member of Parliament for Nipissing—Timiskaming, who was emphatically elected by the voters of that riding,” but he was otherwise unwilling to deviate.

“What I can say categorically is that these exaggerated allegations by the member opposite and her party demean the millions of voters who cast legitimate votes in the last election,” Mr. Del Mastro offered in response to Ms. Foote, “including those in Nipissing—Timiskaming.”

So either Ms. Walsh Craig owes the country an apology or the yellow piece of paper owes Ms. Walsh Craig an apology.

The Stats. Ethics, 17 questions. Health care, four questions. Government spending, employment, pensions, veterans, trade and search-and-rescue, two questions each. Afghanistan, the National Research Council, science, government contracts, Air Canada and sports, one question each.

Dean Del Mastro, eight answers. Stephen Harper, five answers. Pierre Poilievre, Leona Aglukkaq and Diane Finley, four answers each. Keith Ashfield, three answers. Steven Blaney, Ted Menzies, Gerald Keddy and Rona Ambrose, two answers each. Peter Kent, Lisa Raitt and Bal Gosal, one answer each.

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