Friday, February 16, 2007

Harper exploiting a scandal that did not exist

Here's proof politics here have gone to hell
Harper is still exploiting a `scandal' that he knows did not exist
Feb 16, 2007 Scott Reid / TorontoStar

The formal conclusion of the RCMP's investigation into income trusts tells us two things that we knew already. First, Ralph Goodale is a decent, honest man. Second, politics in this country have gone to hell.

It also tells us that the RCMP inserted itself into last year's election with either malice or incompetence under its former commissioner. But we already knew that too.

Still, it is now confirmed by the police that there was no politically motivated or politically placed leak from Ralph Goodale, his office or that of anyone else associated with Paul Martin's Liberal government. The cancerous allegations of criminal behaviour flung about by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were without foundation.

That almost certainly comes as no shock to Mr. Harper. After all, he didn't make those allegations because he actually believed Mr. Goodale was crooked. He made them because he believed it would work to his political advantage. On that count, he was correct.

The RCMP's unprecedented announcement that it was launching a mid-campaign "criminal investigation" was devastating to the governing Liberal party. Remarkably, some continue to contest the impact of that development on the election's outcome – as though to recognize reality would diminish the responsibility of the Liberal campaign team or lessen the sting of defeat.

In truth, the false income trust allegations hit Liberal support hard – particularly in Ontario. Internal polls pegged the Liberal lead in the province at 13 points in the dying days of December 2005. Within 96 hours of the RCMP's announcement, the parties were tied. A week later, Liberals trailed the Conservatives in Ontario by 6 points. A last-minute upsurge helped make it tight and keep the Conservatives to a minority. But the damage done kept the Liberals from anything approaching a winning rally.

Unless you're a hard-core partisan, that is unlikely to be of concern. But there is damage of another sort that should trigger distress – the continued erosion that affects our faith in the political process and our institutions of government.

Why would the RCMP defy its usual practice of refusing to comment on or even acknowledge open investigations? Much less, in the midst of an election campaign? Much less, with no basis – as we now see – for suspecting there was political involvement? Was it poor judgment or something more pernicious? The fact that the RCMP opened itself up to these questions is deeply troubling.

Canadians also lost something when the election campaign was diverted to discussion of a phony scandal based on a non-existent political leak. They lost the benefit of a debate – over reducing the costs of undergraduate tuition by half, over hiring more doctors, over employment insurance support for those caring for an ailing loved one. These were among the policies rolled out by the Liberals in the days following the RCMP's announcement. Policy proposals that might as well have been attached to carrier pigeons bound for Paris for all the notice they received. Of course, there is no guarantee on how such a debate would have unfolded or whom it would have benefited. But it would at least have been about the policies that Canadians care about most. We now know there was no corrupt Liberal tipoff. That was all political BS. The RCMP has laid charges against a non-partisan, senior civil servant in the finance department and said its investigation is now closed.

You would think that might change something. You would think it might cause at least a red-faced temporary pause in the political smears coming from the Prime Minister on this issue. You would think wrong.

Animated by talk of yet another election, Stephen Harper is running negative television ads in Quebec that link St├ęphane Dion to the income trust "scandal." They show headlines reporting that Mr. Goodale is under police investigation. Not true. Yet Mr. Harper is neither apologizing nor pulling the ads.

Negative campaigning has become an immutable feature of our politics. Many will say that what Mr. Harper is doing is no different than anyone else. But that's not quite true. When it comes to lowering the standards of our political discourse, this Prime Minister has earned special distinction.

In the good old days of our hoary political youth – when parties just wanted to defeat one another, not incinerate their opponents' character – there was a line to be drawn. It stopped short of labelling your political foes as criminals. It stopped short of designing a political strategy intended to convince as many people as possible that "the other guy" was corrupt – even though you believed that charge to be false.

The income trust investigation should be a cautionary tale. It should spark expressions of regret. But, true to form, Stephen Harper observes no caution. He simply repeats the smear, unpoliced by any sense of shame. His belief is that it will help him in the next election. He might be right. And that's why politics have gone to hell.


Mike said...

And now he is trying to stack the judiciary with pro-conservative, police friendly hacks.

Next time someone asks why I decided anarchism was the way to go, I'll point them here, ok?

audacious said...

i suspect many of us are getting disillusioned.