By Gerald Caplan, Globe and Mail, March 3, 2012
Mr. Harper’s Conservatives, many of us fear, have changed the entire game. In fact for them it’s not a game at all. Like their cherished American Republican role models, when they speak about their war room, they mean it. And in war, it hardly needs saying, there’s little tolerance for democratic niceties.
Do I exaggerate? Listen once again to Tom Flanagan, former Harper strategist and a powerful voice still among conservatives and Conservatives. A Globe piece by Mr. Flanagan before the 2011 election was actually titled “An election is war by other means,” while earlier he had compared the 2008 campaign to ancient wars in which Rome (the Conservatives) defeated Carthage (the Liberals) and “razed the city to the ground and sowed salt in the fields so nothing would grow there again.” This is crazy talk.
The University of Ottawa’s Ralph Heintzman sums up this Harper credo: There is a “lack of sense of inner self-restraint on the part of the Prime Minister, a sense that it is some kind of war and therefore anything is legitimate, that it's quite acceptable for a prime minister to lie, for example, about how our parliamentary democracy works.”
It’s within this context that Robo-gate should be viewed.
Would a party that believed in politics as war hesitate to use the latest technology to keep opponents – the enemy! – from voting? Would a party that has already systematically undermined many traditional parliamentary and democratic niceties, as The Globe’s Lawrence Martin has repeatedly documented, hesitate to violate accepted democratic limits? Does a party that has already been found guilty of violating the election laws and that deliberately attempted to destabilize a sitting Liberal MP deserve the benefit of the doubt?
Here’s the problem. Both sides know with certainty the answer to these questions. Those of us who wouldn’t trust Stephen Harper if he told us today was Friday have no doubt who organized Robo-gate. In fact, I’m informed by a former Conservative operative familiar with both the party and technology that there’s far more to be revealed in this saga. This is said specifically to involve close ties between the Harperites and American Republicans who have been constructing a terrifying, full-blown voter suppression machine, as The Nation magazine, among others, has well documented and CBC Radio’s The Current has noted. I have no idea if this will be found to be true, but based on the record, it is surely not implausible.
Yet Mr. Harper's faithful base, that slightly-more-than-one-third of the electorate on whose behalf the entire government of Canada operates, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is some kind of vicious Liberal frame-up and that their man is as innocent and pure as the driven white snow we occasionally still get.
Both sides can’t be right here. Let’s all pray mine is wrong.
We have been writing for months that the Harper gang is a Canadian derivative of the American Tea Party, and if Mr. Caplan's source is correct, and there truly is much more to be revealed in this saga, given the documented model of voter suppression in the U.S., Canada could be in for a very rude awakening.
It was back in the 1990's when the then Harris gang lifted election strategies from the then Republican Governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, in preparation for their "common sense" revolution. So there is certainly precedent for a Canadian conservative party to "borrow" (or steal or mimic or duplicate) the strategies and tactics found to be successful south of the 49th parallel.
Voter suppression by the Republicans demonstrates a vaccuity of policy alternatives and a failure to come together on more than a few "slogans" by which they were able to ignite an angry electorate during the 2010 election.
If Harper's gang have crossed a traditional line in voter suppression in Canada, let's hope the Canadian electorate will retain the memory of the facts, beyond the normal 48-hour news cycle, and turf them out in 2015.
Clearly, we can only identify with Mr. Caplan, as to how dangerous Mr. Harper is, and hope, with him, that we are both wrong.