April 30, 2011

Dirty Games

I received an upsetting email from Ron Hartling, the president of the Kingston and the Islands Federal Liberal Association. Apparently, dirty, U.S.-style tactics are being used to turn Kingston electors away from the Liberal candidate, Ted Hsu.  

"I am writing to warn you about a new and especially dirty political tactic that has already been used to target other Liberal candidates in various parts of Canada and is now being used against the Ted Hsu campaign here in Kingston. Residents are receiving rude phone calls, often in the middle of the night, by people fraudulently claiming to be working for our campaign. This is a classic Republican-style dirty trick that is obviously intended to anger those who would otherwise vote for Ted in the hope of turning them against him and/or discouraging them from voting. People who have been woken up by these calls report that they apparently originate from a call centre in the 701 area code in North Dakota, effectively putting them out of reach of Canadian law.

Kingston police have been notified, Elections Canada is already investigating previous incidents and our campaign co-manager, John Clements, has issued a media release. Since Monday is election day, however, it is likely that too few people will hear the truth about this outrage in time to offset the damage that has already been inflicted, and will likely continue over the weekend.

This is where you can make the difference. By forwarding this message to as many people as possible in your circle, you can enable them to direct their outrage against the perpetrators rather than Ted should they be or have been woken up in the middle of the night by such a call. It is clear that someone is paying this American call centre good money to disrupt Liberal campaigns here in Canada, money that Canadian law would require be declared as an election expense (but I would wager never will). In the absence of hard evidence, I won’t make unfounded accusations but also can’t ignore the obvious fact that it is the Liberal candidates in close Liberal-Conservative races who are being targeted in this way. You can draw your own conclusions.

As Liberals, we believe in democracy and respecting voters. We attack what we see as bad and unfounded policies, not people Sadly, our Conservative opponents have emulated their Republican mentors by importing nasty, divisive and very personal attack policies into Canada, which hurts our country, divides us and distracts from the very real challenges that we should be facing together. The Alicia Gordon campaign’s large attack ad in last Saturday’s Whig is a classic case in point in that it grossly distorts Ted’s positions by compiling out-of-context snippets from serious articles he wrote many years ago in an obvious attempt to mislead enough voters to serve their ends. Such cynical and manipulative tactics have thoroughly poisoned US politics, but are still being used because they fool enough of the people enough of the time. The only way to stop them becoming the norm here in Canada is for enough of us to reject those who employ them in the one way that really counts ... at the ballot box."

If a North Dakota call centre has indeed been contracted to execute such a disgusting strategy it is a new low point for Canadian politics. The ongoing attack ads on TV and radio are bad enough. None of the federal party leaders are villains, although they certainly have their individual strengths and weaknesses.  The problem for Canadians is that none of them stick out as being particularly heroic, either. Mr Layton's recent surge in appeal is merely a default position: the result of mounting cynicism towards federal politics and a specific distrust of Messrs. Harper and Ignatieff. If you participate in dirty politics--even if from a distance-- you can't help but have a bad smell about you.  It's all such a mighty shame.

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