Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Has the (Ottawa) Bubble Burst?

Something rare has happened in Canadian politics over the past eight or nine days, and the fact that it has happened could have significant implications for the Conservative government. If you listened carefully, you could hear it happening. It went *pop*.

The *pop* was the sound of the Ottawa bubble bursting as the rest of the country tuned in to what has been happening on the Hill.

It is an increasingly rare event that manages to build a bridge between the political media/politics watchers (those in the Ottawa bubble), and the broader public. Given that rarity, it is somewhat ironic that it was the Senate of all places that managed to burst the bubble.

Think about it. The part of the government that Canadians probably see as the least relevant has become the part of the government that has done more to engage Canadians on a political issue than any other in recent years.

More than prorogation, the long-form census, the gun registry, Afghanistan, Guerguis-Jaffer (and the busty hookers), F-35s, the Economic Action Plan, and a host of other issues....this issue has brought politics to Canadians and brought Canadians to politics.

Ironic point number 2: Mr. Harper appointed Mr. Duffy to the Senate to strengthen the government's ability to connect with the voter. I suppose he can say mission accomplished.

In reality though, the Senate is not the issue despite the fact that this is what the government would have you believe. As I wrote here, what is happening in the Senate is a symptom of a wider problem that relates to questions of transparency and accountability.

The evidence thus far suggests that the government:

- knew what was happening;
- made various efforts to hide it; and
- celebrated those efforts and attacked those who offered criticism.

Only when it was clear that things were about to get worse did the government act, but those actions have only served to reveal the inconsistencies in their positioning of the issue. And those inconsistencies raise some important questions:

1. Did the Prime Minister mislead Parliament? On numerous occasions inside and outside Parliament, he has said that Mr. Wright resigned (something publicly lamented by more than one MP and Cabinet Minister). Now Parliament is told Mr. Wright was fired. Both can't be true, so which one was not?

2. Mr. Harper has said Mr. Duffy must pay back the money. OK, but to who? Was the public purse reimbursed by the 90K from Mr. Wright, as we were told? If so, then I guess he has to pay back Mr. Wright (though it is odd that the Prime Minister would so publicly ask for money to be repaid to someone he has now thrown under a bus and ran over several times).

Or is he to pay back the party? Or is it possible that the expenses were not repaid, in which case why did the government say they were when the celebrated Mr. Duffy? Again, given the government's statements earlier this year something is not correct.

3. Who knew what in the PMO? And depending on the answer, why has only one person (Wright) paid a price (either through resignation or dismissal)?

4. What is the truth on the RBC loan line that was used by the government and Mr. Duffy? If it is not true, who developed the line and insisted on its use?


After #SFT13, with its focus on the base, I made the following comment:

Should the government find itself subject to death by a thousand cuts emanating from the Senate, particularly if there are links to the PMO, then all best intentions with respect to both the base and the broader electorate are out the window.

As the Liberals will tell you, erosion in support is difficult to stop once your brand has been subjected to a steady drip of scandal. Similarly, mould and decay are not easily painted over.

Two weeks ago we were not at this point. I think we are now, and with more and more Canadians paying attention the government should be worried.

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