Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Political Dirty Tricks Have a Long and Sordid History in Canada: Experts: Political Dirty Tricks Nothing New in Canada

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Political Dirty Tricks Have a Long and Sordid History in Canada: Experts: Political Dirty Tricks Nothing New in Canada

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - Outraged opposition MPs assure us that the robocalls controversy is the worst degradation of democracy in a century-and-a-half of Canadian history.

They may be a bit too focused on today.

Dirty tricks are nothing new in Canadian politics. In fact, they're as old as the country itself.

The rough-and tumble-politics of post-Confederation Canada included a much looser definition of "ethical campaigning" and outright vote buying fell well within that.

The use of call centres and automatic dialling machines to steer opposition supporters to non-existent polling stations is a uniquely modern mix of technology and skullduggery, but the Fathers of Confederation were quite capable of their own unplugged chicanery.

Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, says politicians kept detailed lists of their constituents' preferred bribes -- ranging from a few dollars to a bottle of whiskey -- well into the 20th century.

He says the practice was so common that one MP actually spoke out against the introduction of the secret ballot in 1874 on grounds that he wouldn't know he was getting value for his bribes.

Wiseman said the MP reasoned: "If I've paid somebody good money to vote for me, if he goes behind a curtain I don't know how he voted, he may have voted for somebody else."

And where did the bribe money come from? Well in the 1872 election, it was clear that Sir John A. Macdonald and his Conservative party got some of their money from the Canadian Pacific Railway. That became the Pacific Scandal which drove Macdonald from office.

The smoking gun was a telegram Macdonald sent to the head of the railway just six days before the election. It read: "I must have another $10,000. Will be the last time of calling. Do not fail me. Answer today."

The practice of outright bribery died down in the 20th century but has reared its head since. In 1999 a Liberal party operative was suspended after accusations that he paid people to impersonate others at an advance poll in a Quebec riding.

Such examples notwithstanding, Canada's sober political scene hasn't been as scandal-prone as the American one. But occasionally, when political passions reach a boil, the allegations start to fly.

Quebec's bitter divide between federalists and separatists came to a head in the 1995 referendum. The province said No to secession by a very narrow margin, but when the dust settled, both sides cried foul.

The Yes side railed against discounted fares to Montreal offered by Via Rail and Air Canada on the day of a federalist rally, calling them illegal subsidies. The federalists claimed corrupt election scrutineers appointed by the Parti Quebecois government threw out large numbers of No votes in strongly federalist areas of Montreal.

Nevertheless, Canada's general elections have largely been judged as fair. …

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