Friday, September 05, 2008

On response time

A couple of days ago, I noted that despite all the concerns about the Cons delaying their court proceedings against Elections Canada to move the deadline for a response brief past the expected federal election date, it's still open to Elections Canada to file its response before the initial deadline. With that in mind, let's take the argument a step further and discuss why Elections Canada should do so.

From the outset, it should be clear that Elections Canada's decision-making needs to be based on the public interest rather than any sense of strategic advantage or animus toward the Cons. Which means that while a desire to see the Cons face what's coming to them late in a campaign may be a strong reason why I'd like to see the response filed before election day, it shouldn't be a factor for Elections Canada.

But there's still a strong case to be made that a response before the initial deadline would be entirely appropriate, if not downright necessary to ensure fairness for all parties in this fall's election.

After all, it's the Cons who started the litigation against Elections Canada as a pre-emptive strike - both within the legal system and in the court of public opinion - against the investigation that they surely knew was in progress. Which means that Elections Canada's response strategy also has to address both of those media, not merely the deadlines set by the court.

Moreover, it seems beyond doubt that the Cons' argument and/or accompanying media strategy will include yet another inflammatory set of accusations toward Elections Canada. In order to both maintain public confidence in the ongoing electoral process and provide a level playing field for all the other parties who haven't gone out of their way to create an excuse to attack Elections Canada, those can't be allowed to go unanswered during the course of the campaign.

Of course, those needs will shape the content of any response as well. And just as Elections Canada has been scrupulously fair toward the Cons to date, there's little doubt that any final argument will similarly deal only with correcting the factual record and presenting Elections Canada's interpretation of the Canada Elections Act - rather than showing even a trace of the contempt which the Cons have showered on independent institutions who dare to hold Harper and company accountable for their actions.

But while Elections Canada can't sink to the Cons' level, it can - and should - set an example that it's possible to do more than the bare minimum to meet its responsibilities. And in this case, that means completing and filing its response in time to ensure both sides of the lawsuit are heard before the end of the election campaign.

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