OTTAWA – Leader’s Ledger – Is deliberately spreading lies and misinformation about your political opponents simply an exercise in free speech or morally bankrupt behaviour that should not be tolerated?
It’s amazing and sad that this could even up for debate in my opinion. Unfortunately, last week the Conservative Party admitted – and attempted to justify – a misinformation campaign they undertook that spread a known falsehood about a sitting MP within that Member’s own riding for political gain. After it became known that the Conservatives were behind the campaign, a senior cabinet minister stated that there was nothing wrong with spreading the lies because the party was merely exercising its right to free speech. It was surprising to hear that the Conservatives would employ such tactics, but mind-blowing to hear them actually defend their use on moral grounds of all things.
Some background first. Over the last several years, the Conservative Party has made a concerted effort to attract certain voters by taking certain public policy positions and targeting their electoral resources to attract those voters in key constituencies across Canada. One of the constituencies that the Conservatives have been targeting for at least the last three elections is the riding of Mount Royal that is currently held by Liberal Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler. I see no problem in targeting certain groups of voters for support or working hard to win certain key ridings, as all parties do this, but I have a serious problem with the tactics the Conservatives used to implement this strategy.
It has no doubt been frustrating for the Conservatives to be rejected by the voters of Mount Royal in every election, but they decided to take their campaign to the next level by paying a polling company to call residents and spread the lie that Mr. Cotler was about to retire and that a by-election there was imminent. The Conservatives knew this was not true, but that didn’t stop them from paying a company to spread the misinformation in an effort to determine which voters are supportive of Mr. Cotler or the Liberal Party, and who would be ‘available’ to voting Conservative in the fictional by-election. This is important information because if Mr. Cotler chooses not to run again, for any reason, then the Conservatives will know how many – and possibly which individuals – are likely to change their vote next time around. The problem, of course, is that they had to spread a known lie to get the answers they wanted from thousands of unsuspecting citizens.
The fact that the Conservative Party would aggressively target another sitting MP with lies and misinformation is a very serious problem, but not as serious a problem as their decision to defend the practice of lying to the public on ‘moral’ grounds. When confronted with the accusation Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House Leader, said; “To say that one cannot speculate on his [Cotler’s] future, that that form of freedom of speech should forever be suppressed, is to me an overreach that is far too great.” Get it? It’s the Conservatives right to lie, and they’re just exercising their right. So in the end, lying is not only tolerable…it’s actually moral!
Political loyalty, strategy, and reasoning aside I believe that spreading lies and misinformation about your opponents is absolutely intolerable. I speak from experience, as I fell victim to a similar smear campaign when (now former) Conservative MP Dona Cadman (Surrey-North) sent a mass mailing into our riding saying that I had voted to keep the Long Gun Registry. The Conservatives who drew up and approved this mailing knew that this was a lie and went ahead anyway with the smear. Unbelievably, I still hear from the odd person who quotes this unfortunate mailing – two years later.
The big question I have is, ‘why do the Conservatives continually lie, deceive, and otherwise manipulate the public, and how can they possibly think this is moral and ethical conduct?’ I think over time the answer is becoming clear. Personally, I think the answer is that they engage is this sort of politics because Stephen Harper and his Conservatives simply don’t share the same values, ethics, and moral standards that are held by the vast, vast majority of Canadians.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River