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Never mind Dean Del Mastro: Robocall dots are easy to connect

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Dean Del Mastro

Conservative robocall point man Dean Del Mastro prompted a lot of rude repartee in the Twittersphere yesterday when he suggested we should all just calm down and stop jumping to conclusions.

After all, Del Mastro explained in response to a CBC story the day before that pointed to a connection between people who had received misleading robocalls and an earlier call from the Conservative Party that identified how they planned to vote, "some of these things, as I've already indicated, could well have been mistakes."

Really!

The CBC analysis of the goings on in 31 ridings across Canada "showed a pattern indicating those who got misleading or fraudulent calls sending them to the wrong polling location had also gotten calls from the Conservative Party trying to find out which way they would vote." As the CBC pointed out, that's just the kind of information that’s likely to be guarded most closely by a political party. So how did the robocallers get it?

Still, the MP for Peterborough and the PM's Parliamentary Secretary boldly expostulated yesterday, "I don't understand why folks jump to these things and run to a conclusion that they have no evidence of," never mind that the CBC story had just connected some of the dots in a compelling if not utterly conclusive way.

Oh well, as they say, any old port in a storm! At least Mr. Del Mastro didn't suggest that "maybe a giant did it!"

Nevertheless, it's an interesting question why so many Canadians are prepared to jump to just such a conclusion about what the Conservatives have been up to.

The reason, of course, is that if, unlike the mainstream media, you've been paying attention at all, the trail of breadcrumbs that leads from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the far-right ideologues who surround him to the robocall affair and similar sleaziness has been perfectly evident for a very long time.

Is anyone actually surprised that the use of deceptive practices to suppress votes is a key technique in the so-called Canadian Conservative Party's bag of electoral tricks? Seriously, readers, this has been the most open of secrets among party insiders, pollsters and journalists for so long that anyone among the political cognoscenti who purports to be even mildly surprised by these robocall developments must be having a small chuckle at your expense.

Indeed, once neo-Con parties like the Canadian Conservatives have latched on to power, vote suppression is a standard part of their repertoire in all the democracies of the West, whether in the Americans, Europe or the Antipodes.

The connections between the neo-Con brain trust behind Prime Minister Harper's reverse takeover of the now-misnamed Conservative Party of Canada and the most manipulative and dishonest factions of the U.S. far right are well documented and understood.

From the past activities of Harper's "faithful supporter," the frequently over-tired Calgary West MP Rob Anders, as "a foreign political saboteur" in the service of Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, to the Staussian faith of the P.M.'s "Calgary School" allies like Tom Flanagan in the need to dupe and manipulate their fellow citizens, the links have been obvious for years.

Moreover, the Conservatives have built the infrastructure of operatives and organizations they need to develop the knowledge and the skills required to put together other deceptive operations, if not quite on the scale of the robocall conspiracy.

And, apparently being incorrigible, even as the robocall scandal started unfolding they were still talking about it!

As John Fryer, University of Victoria public administration professor, pointed out in letters sent to newspapers and widely circulated on the Internet earlier this month, when he signed up for a three-day seminar on political campaigns at the misnamed Manning Centre for Building Democracy, voter suppression was high on the agenda.

Indeed, the role of the Manning Centre provides an interesting counterpoint to the self-righteous condemnation of the robocall affair by centre president, founder and namesake Preston Manning at another event this month.

Fryer wrote: "Discussion ensued about suppression techniques. Instructors explained that voter suppression tactics were borrowed from those used by the U.S. Republican Party. Many kinds of suppression calls were canvassed. Another instructor gave detailed explanations of how robocalls worked, techniques for recording messages plus costs involved. He distributed his business card upon request.

"Instructors made clear that robocalling and voter suppression were perfectly acceptable and a normal part of winning political campaigns," Fryer said. "The denials now expressed by the prime minister and his parliamentary associates thus ring hollow if not something worse.

"Having attended this campaign school, it's obvious that for Conservatives, voter suppression strategies are standard in their playbook on how to conduct elections," his letter concluded.

So, although Del Mastro purports to be mystified by the conclusions easily reached by common-sense Canadians, the reasons for their certainty is as plain as the growing nose on our prime minister's face.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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