Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator, Thursday March 1, 2012
Political dirty tricks have a long and sordid history in Canada
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. (Source: Winnipeg Free Press)