Tuesday night, Canada’s federal government voted to put political expediency ahead of honesty.
In many ways, it was a tempest in a teapot, but like many teapot tempests, it can certainly make you stop for a moment and ask if a government is willing to so obviously bend the truth for an almost-meaningless end, what else are they willing to bend?
At issue are the comments of Brad Butt, a
Conservative MP representing Mississauga-Streetsview in Ontario during debate on the
federal government’s controversial new election legislation.
Here’s what Butt said in the House of Commons on Feb. 6: “I am from a semi-urban area of Mississauga, where there are many high-rise apartment buildings. On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box. I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.”
It’s pretty clear.
It also didn’t happen.
Here’s Butt again, on Feb. 24: “Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on Feb. 6 in this House regarding the fair elections act. I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.”
The NDP complained to the Speaker of the House of Commons, saying Butt lied to the House. The Speaker found there was a case to be made — but when the NDP asked to have Butt come before a parliamentary committee to explain, the Conservatives used their majority to vote down the move, essentially ending the issue.
As Conservative Peter Van Loan said in the House, “We know what the facts are. They are quite simple. It is time to move on.”
Butt says his, well, misstatement was all part of the cut-and-thrust of debate: “I absolutely did not lie to the House, I absolutely did not intend in any way to mislead the House. … I made the statement during the banter that we all have.”
In fact, he made the statement during ordinary debate as part of a structured question to a Conservative minister — a statement that ended with, “Does the minister not believe this kind of thing will get cleaned up properly with this bill?”
The Conservatives have certainly voted themselves and Mr. Butt out of a potentially embarrassing political situation.
You can, of course, vote that lies are truth and, presumably, you can even try to keep a straight face while you’re doing it.
But it does nothing to improve Canadians’ already-tarnished view of federal politicians.