Like that Bill Shakespeare fellow said: They doth protest too much.
Sunday’s column, to my surprise, set off a bit of tempest among conservative pundits and commenters.
In it, I talked about the latest Statistics Canada data, showing that — among the millions of Canadians who were entitled to vote, but didn’t, on May 2 — about a third said they didn’t bother because they didn’t think their vote would make a difference. Or because they simply weren’t interested.
In that column, I suggested some of those left and centre-left Canadians who stayed at home had been “vote suppressed.” That is, they had been actually persuaded to embrace apathy by fiendishly clever Conservative Party strategists.
It is worse than anti-democratic, I said: It corrodes democracy itself.
Now, among political consultants, vote suppression is a well-known tactic, albeit one not discussed in polite company. It gets people upset.
Which they did, big time, in the wake of Sunday’s column.
One former Ontario Conservative candidate, Rob Davis, was in high dudgeon over the suggestion his party would ever, ever engage in voter suppression. Such a claim was “shameful,” he sniffed.
On the Sun’s website, the response from Conservatives was much the same, with some actually suggesting voter suppression does not happen or, if it does, it is the product of a conspiracy between leftists and the leftist media.
Wow. A conspiracy? Made-up? Let’s ask Glen Pearson about that.
Pearson is the well-regarded former Liberal MP for London West. Pearson had friends on all sides of the House of Commons. But he lost, narrowly, to a Conservative candidate — because of, in part, a well-orchestrated voter suppression campaign.
As Chip Martin detailed in the London Free Press, innumerable Liberal supporters in the hotly contested London ridings reported receiving late-night calls of harassment — spreading false information, for example, about polling stations being moved.
Most of the calls came from smear-for-hire call centres in Florida or the Dakotas, which were beyond the reach of Canadian law.
“A good Conservative friend informed me they had actually been utilizing a central office for phone calls and that none of them emanated from London itself,” Pearson wrote on his much-read blog. “They had poured big money from afar into influencing my riding.”
The U.S.-based “robocalls” were also reported in other ridings in Ontario, and in Manitoba. The Conservative Party has denied authorizing the calls, but Elections Canada announced in May they had launched an investigation into numerous complaints received from voters — voters who felt a dirty tricks campaign was waged to keep them from exercising their franchise.
“It is more than unfortunate. It is of concern that somebody would try “¦ to give false information to an elector,” said Elections Canada spokesperson John Enright.
Some jurisdictions haven’t waited for the outcome of the Elections Canada investigation. Shortly after the federal contest ended, Ontario quickly toughened its election fraud laws, promising jail time and huge fines for those found to be engaging in voter suppression. Others jurisdictions may soon follow suit.
Does voter suppression, then, exist? Of course it does.
And the ones who doth protest the most, methinks, are the ones most interested in suppressing a voter or two.