'Professional agitators' behind robo-calls legal fight, Tories charge

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 15, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are asking a court to dismiss legal bids for new elections in seven ridings because, they say, the group financing this is full of “professional agitators” who hate Tories and want to topple the government.

They’re fighting an effort by nine individuals who are seeking new ballots in seven closely fought federal ridings where it’s alleged that misleading robo-calls or other harassing phone messages interfered with fair elections.

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Conservatives lawyers filed their latest arguments May 22 in a second omnibus legal motion that exceeds 750 pages, a package that is longer than both Budget 2012 (498 pages) and its first implementation bill, C-38 (420 pages).

The Conservatives alleges the left-leaning Council of Canadians, which is underwriting the legal challenges of seven ridings where Tories won, is guided by “antipathy ... towards the Conservative Party” and a desire to see the NDP take power.

“The true applicant, the Council, is an activist group with a long-standing animus against the Conservative Party,” the Tory motion says.

“The Council’s motive in sponsoring the applications is to attack its political enemy, the Conservative Party, rather than assisting citizens in asserting ... legitimate legal rights.”

The Tories ransacked the legal dictionary to make their case, arguing the Council is guilty of “wanton or officious intermeddling” in funding cases by individuals Canadians.

“It is evidence that the council’s business model is to leverage anti-Conservative sentiment in order to raise money and continue to employ professional agitators like [chair Maude]Barlow.”

Ms. Barlow’s group is perhaps most famous for fighting former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s as he negotiated and signed the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement.

Council of Canadians executive director Garry Neil joked the Tories let his group off relatively lightly.

“Unlike the epithets thrown at their political opponents, we aren’t being accused of being Nazi sympathizers, or terrorists, or being on the side of the child pornographers,” he said.

“I only wish the Conservatives had put as much time and effort into their investigation of the robo-calls scandal as they’ve put into chastising the Council of Canadians.”

The Tories devised an elaborate theory behind the Council of Canadians’ decision to sponsor the recent legal challenges, saying the roots of the matter go back decades.

“The Council has strong ties to the NDP and the labour movement leadership dating back to at least the 1980s,” the Conservatives say.

“It has expressed, on numerous occasions, that it wishes to topple the majority government that Canadians elected on May 2, 2011 and that it would prefer NDP rule.”

The party cites Council of Canadian blog posts following the 2011 election where the group says it must take on the role of “extra-parliamentary opposition” in Canada.

“The council and Barlow are now attempting to add court challenges to their activist arsenal.”

The controversy surrounding fraudulent robo-calls has focused largely on the riding of Guelph, which is the target of an investigation by Elections Canada.

But the motions to annul the election results in seven Conservative ridings, filed last month by nine voters, offer another challenge to the ruling party. The complaints argue that misleading, harassing and fraudulent calls made during the campaign had a clear impact on the election, targeting progressive voters in a bid to help the prospects of the Conservative candidate.

The seven ridings named in the motions are: Yukon, Nipissing-Timiskaming in Ontario, Elmwood-Transcona in Manitoba, Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, Winnipeg South Centre, Don Valley East in Toronto and Vancouver Island North.

All were won by Conservative candidates by margins of 1.3 per cent of the total vote or less, with the exception of the B.C. riding, which the Conservative candidate won by 3 per cent.

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