And just like that, it was over. Elections Canada let it be known far and wide yesterday that “the evidence gathered in the investigation does not lend support to the existence of a conspiracy or conspiracies to interfere with the voting process" as a result of their investigation into fraudulent robocalls made on Election Day 2011. And that, as they say, is that. I guess.
Of course, that's not to say that there wasn't any conspiracy, just that Elections Canada investigators couldn't find any evidence of a conspiracy; as a wise man once said, "the absence of evidence isn't necessarily the evidence of absence." It's also somewhat doubtful that EC's proclamation that this is case closed and is unlikely to assuage any lingering doubts that some shrewd customer, possibly the same parties, isn't going to try this again next year.
According to Yves Cote, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, all they have proof of is “that incorrect poll locations were provided to some electors, and that some nuisance calls occurred.” There's also the small matter of the trial that begins here in June, the prosecution of Michael Sona for "willfully preventing or endeavouring to prevent an elector from voting" on June 2 in Guelph. I suppose then that the scapegoating of Sona is now complete, for many will be satisfied that he's the mysterious Pierre Poutine and the buck stops with him.
The Conservatives were quick to accept Cote's findings. “For the last two years the opposition parties have made unsubstantiated allegations which have now been proven to be false by Elections Canada,” said Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann.
Reading between the lines though, there's still some cause for concern. Cote noted that there was difficulty in obtaining records for telephone companies, the memories of many complainants were fuzzy because of the elapsed time between the calls and the investigation, and many of the political staffers were difficult, if not outright uncooperative. “Simply arranging interviews took a long time (in some cases, months). There were also instances of outright refusal to co-operate,” Cote added.
Of course, co-operation has been an issue locally when it came to local Conservative campaign members, and its been a top down issue starting with the candidate himself, Marty Burke. Burke was famously closed off during the 2011 campaign, and Sona, as communications director, managed that effort by having his man sit out the majority of debates, and limiting his media exposure. Of the five suspected Burke campaign members who had access to the voter database, two refused to be interviewed by Elections Canada, and one of them moved to Kuwait and hasn't posted anything to Twitter since June 7.
And that brings us to one Andrew Prescott, believed by many (save for any proof mind you) to be Pierre Poutine in the flesh. He has immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony in the Sona case, but we're still not sure what he's going to say. Speaking of Twitter, although Prescott's remain active on that count, streaming his unique brand of snarky ignorance twinged by ideology. His blog Christian Conservative Independent remains untouched since a May 26 post subtitled "Emerging from my hiatus?" I guess the question answered itself, unlike why Prescott, through current Stephen Harper deputy chief of staff Jenni Byrne, had to contact a lawyer before talking to Elections Canada in the first place.
For that reason, it's going to be difficult for a lot of Canadians to shake off the feeling that somebody got away with something, and will likely leave us all with more questions than answers. While Michael Sona could have effected the Guelph fraud, who was behind it in other ridings? If it wasn't a co-ordinated effort, why were so many independent players seemingly so co-operative? Why did the Conservative government want to dismantle the investigative powers of Elections Canada in the Fair Elections Act, and do it swiftly and with little concentration? And what guarantee do we have that this, or some greater act of fraud will be put into effect during next year's election? Time will tell.