It’s never the break-in. It’s always the cover-up.
That’s the political truism from the ’70s-era Watergate scandal, of course. It wasn’t so much the cartoonish June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters by Republican operatives that felled U.S. president Richard M. Nixon. It was the stonewalling and cover-ups by very senior people working at the White House — including the president himself — that forced the ignominious resignation of Nixon, in August 1974. It is always thus.
Voters are pretty reasonable, you see. There can be a guy running for mayor of Toronto, for example, and he can be linked to all sorts of malfeasance — drunk driving, drugs, you name it — and he can still end up getting elected in a landslide. As long as the politician confesses to his or her misdeeds early on (which Rob Ford did, sort of), people will forgive. They don’t get as worked up about these things as the media and the political chattering class do.
But if you lie and prevaricate for a long time, and you don’t cop to your failings right away, you’re done. It’s over.
Which brings us, naturally, to “International Co-operation Minister” (whatever that is) Bev Oda. Oda’s situation provides us with a good Watergate-style case study. She didn’t tell the truth for a long time, she got caught, and now she and her boss are in the glue. Because they’re stonewalling and hoping the whole thing blows over.
It might, it might not. But there can’t be much doubt that Oda did, in fact, lie.
The facts aren’t in dispute. In 2009, her officials recommended on paper that she fund a church-backed aid group called Kairos. Oda, and likely the prime minister, disapproved of Kairos’ “leftist” leanings and didn’t want to fund it. That was indisputably their prerogative. We elect leaders to make policy decisions. Oda and Harper made one. Fine.
To express her opposition to funding Kairos, Oda inserted the word “not” on the paper. That, too, is fine. She was entitled to do that.
But then the trouble started. Between 2009 and now, whenever she was asked about who inserted the pesky little word “not” — at committee, in the House of Commons, wherever — Oda didn’t tell the truth. She covered up. She stonewalled. For instance, here’s what she said in December after the document in question got out: “I cannot say who wrote the ‘not.’ ” That’s a quote.
Well, actually, she could “say.” As was finally admitted in the House of Commons last week, she did. Or, she ordered one of her staff to write it — we still don’t know. Either way, she didn’t tell the truth.
The Harper PMO is hoping you won’t give a tinker’s damn about Bev Oda (who?) and Kairos (what?). I’ve done enough TV panels with Conservative strategists over the years to know that whenever a scandal rears its ugly head, their standard line is: “Nothing to see here, move along. Real people don’t care about this stuff.” And, sadly, there’s some truth to that. We have a national memory of about seven minutes in this country. We also are very skeptical about patented Ottawa-centric scandalmongering. Until we see someone being led away in handcuffs and orange overalls, as in Watergate, we tend to dismiss the histrionics as political puffery.
And, as a partisan Liberal, too, I confess that I’m not so troubled that Harper is refusing to fire a liar. It’s Machiavellian, I suppose, but I can assure you that — for opposition politicians — government stonewalling always pays more dividends than immediate confessions. By digging in, the Conservative leader now risks the stench seeping into his prime ministerial robes.
So, at the end of this sad tale of break-ins and cover-ups, what’s the truth?
Well, the truth is, we deserve better than this. And we’re unlikely to get it anytime soon.
— Kinsella is a lawyer, blogs at warrenkinsella.com and will appear regularly on Sun News Network