No handle on scandal

To campaign or not to campaign? That, increasingly, is the question.

The Liberals are all of a sudden gunning for Tory bear. If the Opposition’s rhetoric is matched by action, we could be heading into an election a lot sooner than later.

The ballot question: Do you think the Stephen Harper Government™ has been as ethical as it promised to be?

The Liberals’ strategy seems straightforward enough. These Cons — the ones who promised transparency and accountability — have now irrevocably become what they promised to destroy. To invoke a Manning-ism, they’ve been Otta-washed.

Here’s some of the sludge seeping off of Parliament Hill in this still-young year:

— “In and out” — That’s the vaguely sexual description for the Conservative Party’s conspiracy to defraud taxpayers, resulting in actual charges being laid against two sitting Tory senators. The sponsorship scandal, at the end of the day, never saw one Liberal politician indicted. Not one.

— Bev Oda’s Lie — Unremarkable minister approves funding for unremarkable church aid group. Aid group criticizes Israel. Enraged PMO apparatchiks alter the document, to deny funding. Unremarkable minister then proceeds to lie about it in the House, gets caught, and — remarkably — refuses to resign.

— The Harper Government© — It’s OK for reporters to refer to a government in that way. It ain’t as if a government orders bureaucrats that it should be referred to in that way. Government belongs to us — not a political party.

— Jason Kenney, minister of sleaze — Jason Kenney has been blurring the line between his ministerial duties and his partisan enthusiasms for so long, it’s amazing that he still knows which business card to hand out. I’ve experienced this personally — when Kenney wanted to go after me a couple of years back over a comment I made about a restaurant, he used ministerial resources and staff to do so. I’ve always thought he closely resembles a young Richard Nixon. Turns out he acts like one, too.

This week, I was mooting all of this skulduggery with a good Conservative friend, Jim Armour. Jim suggested that these scandals really aren’t scandalous — and, besides, no one’s really paying attention, anyway.

Maybe. But — as with the sponsorship scandal — there always comes a point where Joe and Jane Frontporch start to pay attention, and when they get really mad. And when they get mad, watch out.

That’s why the Grits are firing away at the Reformatories on the ethics front, and at their tendency to treat government like it’s their personal plaything. The Cons are vulnerable, Libs believe, because they came into government on a solemn promise to run a clean ship, and then didn’t.

But have the Grits found the winning strategy? I have my doubts, for three reasons.

One, the top-of-mind issue for Canadians is the economy. It always is. I consequently don’t see how we Liberals can ignore the economy in a 36-day campaign. I understand the desire to avoid talking about an issue that is a Conservative strength. But the economy is the 600-pound gorilla in the room. Ignore it at your peril.

Two, “in and out” really is a bona fide scandal. It is. But here’s the problem: It’ll take months to publicize and explain something as complex as the “in and out” conspiracy. Hell, it took Harper more than a year to capitalize on the sponsorship stuff. There isn’t enough time to tell the story right.

Three, take a gander at the polls. If you take Quebec out of the picture (where the Bloc utterly dominates), the Reformatories have a 20-point lead in English Canada. Twenty points! That’s not an election, that’s a massacre.

I understand the grim assessment made by some Libs — “let’s just get it over with, nothing is going to change.” I also have heard some senior staff in OLO have simply given up.

But that’s emotion — that’s not a strategy.

It’s also a formula for losing.

Kinsella is a lawyer, blogs at warrenkinsella.com and will appear regularly on Sun News Network

 

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