About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The View from Under the Bus

In political parlance, one is "thrown under the bus" when they take on, either on a volunteer or voluntold basis, responsibility for a mistake or miscalculation of a campaign. I think given the events of the last couple of days, it's pretty clear that Michael Sona is being thrown under the bus as the robo-call controversy from last May's Federal Election has erupted with new vigour.
Obviously, I'm no fan of Sona's. He was one of the prime architects of the Marty Burke campaign's deflect-a-thon as the Conservative candidate's Communication Manager here in Guelph. Sona was one of a number (seven being the number I was told) of CPC operatives from Ottawa HQ parachuted onto the Burke campaign to help seal this riding's deal for Harper. For Sona and his associates though, the election in Guelph was fait not accompli as their strategy of minimal public engagement outside of campaign events and door-knocking only severed to separate Burke from the electorate he was trying to court.
But I don't want to re-live the campaign. My comments on it stand, and I know others see the campaign differently believing that media members believing themselves ignored and marginalized are either media elitists upset by the snub, or perceived as too liberal to be dealt with reasonably. I think though that everyone can agree that the optics at the special ballot on the University of Guelph campus didn't look good for Sona. The accusation that he caused a ruckus, shouting about the legality of the poll before making a motion to grab the ballot box, made him a national headline; a notoriously active member of the party at best, a Rovian in training at worst.

I wonder if Sona could have guess that last April, as he was acting on behalf of his candidate and his party on campus, he was laying the ground work for his own downfall. Since the election, and until Thursday, Sona has been the executive assistant for Conservative MP Eve Adams. Under the cover of the "did he resign or was he fired" question, Sona has to wonder how he ended up the face of the robo-call controversy, because if anyone knows, they're not talking to the papers about it. The view from this end says that Sona has become a convenient scapegoat. I don't know if he was involved, and if he was I don't know how he might be, but I know one thing for certain: Michael Son isn't the mastermind behind Robo-Call Scandal '11.
But it does raise the curious question of RackNine Incorporated, the Edmonton-based marketing firm used to make the purposefully misleading calls to voters in key ridings that their polling place had been moved. According to CEO Matt Meier they had no idea what the person who contracted them for this electoral fraud was paying them to do, and now RackNine is co-operating fully with the RCMP and Elections Canada. 
“As CEO of Racknine, I was shocked and distressed to learn that some party had used our services to try and disrupt voting during the 2011 federal election," said Meier in a statement. 'We take these allegations very seriously. [...] We are committed to ensuring that those who misused our services will face the full penalty of law, and will continue to work proactively with Elections Canada and all law enforcement agencies to help identify the culprits.”
 And you've got to be wondering why RackNine just can't all up the "culprit's" information on some computer invoice database and print off a copy for the government agents. And while we're at it, are we really to believe that they had no idea about what was going out over their phone lines and autocallers? 
"We couldn’t possibly have known that the fake calls were made using our services," said a company press release in response to accusations from The Ottawa Citizen. "We estimate that over 10 million phone calls went out during the 2011 campaign. RackNine does not monitor outgoing calls made by customers through the automated service, we just provide the software and hardware platforms. Blaming RackNine for any wrongdoings using those services is akin to blaming Apple for any criminal activity in which the use of iPhones are involved."
The nitty gritty of actual criminal investigation is fine and all, but isn't this just the type of red meat that gets the opposition going? If you've already thought that, you're right. Liberal Interim leader Bob Rae kept up the pressure today with a rally in Toronto where he announced that by his party's calculations as many as 27 ridings were the victim of election day robo-calls, and the list reads like a Who's Who of ridings in contention last May. 
Not to be left out, so to speak, a Toronto-area Conservative MP is saying that his riding was also the target of a robo-call campaign to deny voters their franchise.“My own campaign in Peterborough (Ont.) was the victim of dirty tricks phone calls, with Conservative supporters harassed by late-night abusive calls, and our party condemns these acts,” said Dean Del Mastro in a press release.
I seem to remember something similar being reported in our area last election; late night phone calls harassing not just Tory supporters, but Guelphites of various political affiliations. Much like sign vandalism, the attacks seemed non-partisan, but Del Mastro seems to be confusing prank calls with a genuine and verified effort to commit electoral fraud. Both are forms of harassment, but I doubt the perpetrators of one, are the same people behind the other. 
Sona and Burke have both been characteristically silent since the announcement of the former's resignation/firing Thursday. It's possible that Sona's been advised to say nothing for his legal protection, but Burke has remained an active letter-writer to the Guelph Mercury since his failed bid for Guelph MP last spring. It would be nice to hear from both men on the record because this is the kind of thing where silence compounds the transgression, whether they were involved or not, the vacuum is filled with conspiracy theories and false accusations, and considering that as I was researching this post I struggled for anything concrete in the way of paper work, comments or factual findings from any of the parties involved, this is a hole that's being dug deeper by the vacuum as it's being filled. 
I refrain from assigning further blame until there's actually someone to blame and that's justified by either evidenced or filed charges. For now, the fog bank remains firmly in place, the blackout is still in effect, and if we know anything from a blackout it's that people panic in the dark. Ask Michael Sona. His career has already been looted.

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