At last, someone is taking steps to make sure Canada’s election laws are taken seriously. That responsibility ought to lie with the government of the day, but as it turns out it’s been left up to a judge to send the message.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Lisa Cameron did it this week when she sentenced one-time Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro to a month in jail and barred him from running for office for five years for breaking the Canada Elections Act.
Del Mastro not only broke the law by knowingly exceeding spending limits in the 2008 federal election campaign, the judge found, but he submitted a falsified document to cover it all up. “This type of cheating and lying,” she said, “will result in serious sanctions.”
That’s a strong, straightforward statement that is long overdue after the string of election fraud and manipulation we have seen over the past few years — all of it involving Conservatives.
Back in 2006, Elections Canada found that the party overspent campaign limits and wrongfully claimed rebates. In 2011 there was the “robocall” scandal, a scheme to send voters to the wrong polls using automated phone calls. Former Conservative staffer Michael Sona was convicted for his role in that. The same year, the Conservatives also tried to mislead voters by phone in Liberal MP Irwin Cotler’s Montreal riding.
Del Mastro’s case is particularly egregious. He wasn’t just any member of Parliament. He was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary and designated point-man in defending the Conservative party in the robocall affair. He continued to serve on the House of Commons’ ethics committee even after it was revealed that Elections Canada was investigating him for campaign overspending.
Now, after all the denials, Del Mastro has been led away from a Peterborough courtroom in handcuffs and leg shackles, as his former Conservative colleagues in Ottawa look away and pretend they hardly knew him.
This won’t wash. The Conservative party under Harper has compiled a sorry record of disregarding election laws. As the New Democratic Party pointed out in the wake of Del Mastro’s sentencing this week, the party or individuals connected with it have been convicted of cheating in every election going back to 2006.
Voters should keep this sorry record firmly in mind when they to the polls this October.