Make it two surprises in one. William Corbett, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, the man who has thus far handled the ongoing investigation into the robocalls scandal, resigned today. He’s been replaced by a certain Yves Côté, a “low-key” bureaucrat and former Harper appointee.
But that’s only a partial description of the individual now assuming the behemoth responsibility of investigating a politically-charged electoral scandal. Probably the biggest in Canadian history. During the May 2011 Federal election, scores of Canadian voters in more than 200 riding received misleading live calls and fraudulent pre-recorded calls that redirected them to the wrong polling stations.
The new Commissioner is NOT the right candidate for this important job. Not only because he’s reportedly played a role in the creation of the Harper Conservative’s draconian new crime law, the deceptively christened “Safe Streets and Communities Act” (Omnibus crime Bill C-10). The National Post tells us why:
”A former officer with the Judge Advocate General’s office, Côté was appointed as ombudsman for the Canadian Forces in 2005. When he left that post, Esprit de Corps magazine wrote that Côté “made it clear that he was not going to take the high-profile, often-adversarial towards the chain-of-command stance of his predecessor,” Andre Marin.
Côté issued reports critical of the military, complaining in one report that “the Canadian Forces continue to treat military families like second-class citizens,” but on Thursday Esprit de Corps publisher Scott Taylor described Côté’s time as ombudsman as disappointing.
“Unfortunately he failed to maintain the same sort of profile for the office which Marin had laboriously built as the inaugural incumbent,” said Taylor. “While it is true that Marin had raised the bar quite high, Côté passed well below it during his tenure.”
In December 2007, halfway through Côté’s mandate as ombudsman, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him as associate minister of justice, where he worked closely with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson as the government prepared Bill C-10, an omnibus bill that imposed mandatory minimum sentences for many crimes, including marijuana cultivation.
People familiar with Côté’s career described him as low-key and competent, safe and methodical but not a fighter.
Politically dangerous investigations have a long history in official Ottawa of posing challenges to investigators and prosecutors, and prosecutions in the uncharted waters of telephone voter contact could put pressure on Elections Canada.
Taylor, who was a close observer of Côté during his tenure at the Canadian Forces, expressed doubts on Thursday about his willingness to tangle with powerful interests in the robocalls investigation.
“Given that Côté was unwilling to make waves during the tumultuous period in which he served as the CF ombudsman, it is unlikely he would be willing to swim upstream against the political current in his present post,” he said.”
In April, Democracy Watch released its analysis of Elections Canada’s enforcement of the Canada Elections Act since 1997, which revealed the agency’s secrecy and incompetency relating to electoral fraud investigation and reporting. The organization said “the main problem is no one can tell whether Elections Canada has been enforcing the law fairly and properly because it has failed to disclose details of how it has investigated and ruled on 2,982 of the 5,018 complaints it has received about federal elections in the past 15 years.”
Welcome to the end of Elections Canada’s investigation in the robocalls scandal!