Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Conservatives Fined for Robocalls in Sask

Ralph Goodale discusses how the Conservatives tried to bully and subvert the work of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Thanks to Canada's justice system, they were thwarted and fined.

A commentary by the Member of Parliament for Wascana

June 4th, 2013


Over-shadowed by public outrage about that secret and yet-unexplained $90,000 deal between Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff and Mike Duffy, another perverse Conservative scheme seems to have evaporated this past week with little fanfare. That is their attempt to interfere with proposed new federal electoral boundaries in Saskatchewan.

Triggered automatically by the most recent Census, the process to re-draw the boundaries of this province's 14 federal ridings has been underway for just over a year. As provided by law, it's in the hands of an independent, arm's length, non-partisan, quasi-judicial commission.

The chairman of the commission, Mr. Justice Ron Mills of the Court of Queen's Bench, was selected for this task by the Chief Justice of Saskatchewan. The two other commission members, University of Saskatchewan professor-emeritus Dr. John Courtney and SARM president Dave Marit, were chosen by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Collectively their job is to devise constituencies that are manageable geographically and reasonably equal in population. As much as possible, the new boundaries are supposed to respect historical patterns and reflect communities of common interest. Effective representation is their only goal.

The commission sought initial public input, produced a preliminary map, held extensive public hearings across the province, revised their map based on those hearings, and then submitted that second draft to Parliament. It was tabled in the House of Commons last January.

That's when all hell broke loose. The Conservatives discovered they were dealing with a commission with both backbone and principles -- a commission determined not to bend to partisan pressures, but to produce a fair and honest map that accurately reflects Saskatchewan's changing realities.

In that spirit, the commission proposed six ridings that are predominantly rural (one more than at present), five urban constituencies (three in Saskatoon and two in Regina, instead of none at present), and three seats that are mixed rural/urban blends (Regina-Qu'Appelle, Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan and Prince Albert). That result is eminently reasonable.

But Conservatives are politically opposed to ANY distinctly urban ridings in Saskatchewan. They want to keep the old map pretty much as-is. To force their will, they resorted to the most devious means to discredit the commission's work -- including thousands of anonymous, robocalls spreading disinformation about redistribution and attacking the values of commission members. For such illegal behaviour, the Conservative Party was slapped with a $78,000 fine!

In a Parliamentary Committee recently, several Saskatchewan Conservative MPs launched nasty personal diatribes against the commission, accusing them of bias and bad faith. The attacks were scurrilous. Even the other Conservatives on that Committee could not stomach such abuse. Here's what they reported this week:

""The Committee would like to state unequivocally that nothing in the record suggests bias or any improper behaviour from the members of the commission. The Committee concluded that the allegations of bias and lack of objectivity have no merit. The commission has fulfilled its mandate with objectivity and impartiality, and while its approach towards the implementation of urban-only ridings may be disagreed with, that approach is compatible with the provisions of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act."”

In the end, the Parliamentary Committee suggested a few technical adjustments here and there - for the commission's consideration – but it did NOT reject the commission's fundamentally-sound overall approach. And the commission will now have the final say.

So Conservative tactics of harassment, abuse and intimidation have failed!
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