A week ago today, Michael Sona was sentenced to nine months in prison and one year of probation. From all accounts it was an emotional affair for Sona's family as he was lead away in cuffs, remanded to begin his jail sentence, which could be as short as three months ultimately. In a sense, Sona was sentenced in this case long before last Thursday. Once a valued political operative in the party that so thoroughly stuffed hum under the bus to be run over again and again, he's lost friends, respect, and a career that could have taken him all the way to party leadership or his own elected position in Parliament. Now he's a machinist's apprentice going to prison for a crime that was much bigger than himself. Ultimately, Sona's biggest crimes were foolishness and naivety.
I've struggled the last week to say something about the uninspiring and anticlimactic finale to the Robocall scandal, and make no mistake, this is the finale. The Elections Canada investigation has stalled out no matter what anyone says, and unless Sona has a "Come to Jesus" moment in prison, telling investigators what he knows, it's over. On the other hand, maybe he knows nothing. A true patsy. "Senior Tories" told Sun News that Sona was being "looked at" by Elections Canada early after the scandal blew up in Winter 2012, and the more the pressure built, the more they pushed Sona. In the end, the Crown would have been derelict if they hadn't filed charges against Sona.
But to cast Sona as the architect of these doings is short-sighted, and while I won't say he's innocent, he certainly deserved better than to be the only one going to jail for this. Sona is certainly guilty of trying to usurp democracy after a fashion. He perpetuated a campaign where his candidate, Marty Burke, was exposed to the general public in limited doses including few debate appearances and arms-length engagement in the media. Burke, like many Conservative Party candidates across Canada in 2011, could not be vetted properly, and despite the "Blue Wave" in southwestern Ontario, Burke could only muster about 2,000 more votes that his predecessor Gloria Kovach.
It was a national strategy, you see. In successive elections there were firebrand nominees running for the Conservatives that when left to their own devices said or did things that were downright Palinish in their gaffs. This is where the Conservative Party infrastructure comes in. Sona, like many other ambitious young Conservatives, was part of the Conservative internship program in 2009. Sona made friends there, friends that would later testify against him in trail. A simple message was cultivated in what might euphemistically be called "Conservative Summer Camp," and that message was do what it takes to win! I would make an argument about brainwashing, but given by encounter with Sona's campaign style while editing The Ontarion in 2008, I think he was oddly susceptible to that message.
Still, Sona got a raw deal. He's name stuck to the robocall scandal like fly paper, and as he stood as his laurels - such as they were- to defend his innocence, his Conservative colleagues and likely co-conspirators got the hell out of Dodge. Burke campaign manager Ken Morgan was never heard from again, taking off for Kuwait and maybe now in Argentina, the rumor mill is as helpful as it is accurate in tracking Mr. Morgan's movements. Andrew Prescott, who because of his technical skill and personal connection to RackNine is much more likely to be Pierre Poutine in my estimation, happily drove the nail into his former friends' coffin, scoring a specious immunity deal from the Crown while happily tweeting out red meat whenever it suits him. His blog though seems to have never recovered. More's the pity.
Sona himself is stuck in a no man's land between the people who think he got off too lightly and people who think, as the patsy, he's been punished enough. Judge Gary Hearn had to straddle that fence in his decision to sentence Sona, and in the end a judge known for sparing the rod, brought the hammer down. Also a consideration was that this is the first time someone had been sentenced for breaking Canadian election law, and since law is built on precedent, Hearn had to set a tone. If Sona could go to prison for aiding and abetting, it sends a message to any future Poutines lurking in the tall grass. Hopefully.
By now, those that Sona supposedly gave support to are probably breathing a sigh of relief. Civil challenges by the Council of Canadians on behalf of voters across Canada that allegedly received robocalls has also hit a roadblock. All the powers that be note that "something" happened. What it was and who was behind it is a matter of hearsay and conjecture, which are types of evidence, but not the type that's admissible in a court of law. Even what evidence that does exist, like the "testimony" of Prescott, has had cold water thrown on it by Judge Hearn.
Since the only person I can speak for is myself, I will say that I don't believe Sona is Pierre Poutine, and while I'm unsure if he's 100 per cent innocent of any involvement in the robocall scandal, he is not, and should not be, the only person to go to prison for it.
I also believe Sona when he says, "No ninety thousand dollar cheque and no ninety million dollar cheque ever can compensate for the loss of my personal reputation and for what my family has suffered because of this ordeal." Why would it? It's deeply cynical to think that Sona would sit there and take it like he was some kind of low level mafioso, suffering in the short term for long term reward, especially when all the "made men" dismiss him in the media so callously. The prime minister himself has said repeatedly that the party ran a clean campaign, and Finance Minister Joe Oliver concurred last week when he reiterated that there was "no foul play" in the 2011 election on the part of the Conservative Party. Basically, Sona was a lone wolf, and yet it seems he was convicted on the basis that he was "aiding and abetting." But "aiding and abetting" who?
Sona may appeal his sentence, as is his right, but he'll never be seen as innocent by the majority, and in that short term mentioned above, he's as toxic to the political process as industrial waste. The only way he'll be vindicated is for the real Pierre Poutine to stand up, and I think that like FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, who revealed himself in 2005 as Watergate informant "Deep Throat," we'll only get that answer in about 40 years when it's more a matter of trivia than a matter of crime. Politics loves a comeback story, and Sona may be able to mount one at some point in his future, but failing the outing of the real Poutine, people are going to want to see tears, and if Sona hasn't broken his insistence of innocence yet, I doubt he ever will.
So what good can come of this? Hopefully, people will be on their guard in 2015 for more dirty tricks a la Pierre Poutine, and hopefully the sloppiness of the investigation done by Elections Canada won't embolden anyone plotting something and assuming that the Keystone Cops at EC will be putting their socks on in the locker room while they disappear in the Middle East. Mostly, I hope its a lesson to young people that want to engage in hyper-partisanship that when the chips are down, you are as expendible as a vestigial organ, able to be removed with a minimum of effort and with zero effect on the body of the party. The Conservatives think Sona is a kite, and they have cut his strings and hope he now just flies away. He's cheap, in other words, and anyone with the drive, ambition and intelligence to dedicate themselves to a life of public service should think of themselves, and demand to be treated by others, better than that.
For that reason, I'm not mad at Michael Sona. For him, it's like believing in Santa Claus and then finding out that those aren't elves in his workshop but child labourers. Or it's like finding out that Santa favours some kids more than others. Or it's like finding out that you can do everything right to get on Santa's nice list, but it turns out that the morals of Santa and your parents don't align, and you suffer the difference when your parents veto a visit from Old Saint Nick. Michael, I don't know if you were involved, how much you were involved, or if you even knew that there was anything to be involved about, but I forgive you. Don't let the bastards get you down.