Dowd: why the smears won’t work this time

Column here.

Best part:

It won’t fly.

All those old tropes about castrating women are threadbare as Trump’s despicable attempt to recycle the birther smear he used to slime Barack Obama, this time against Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother. She was born in Oakland, Calif.

Biden looks confident for choosing an accomplished woman who delivered a haymaker in a debate. After Donald Trump’s petty vindictiveness, Biden rising above grudges is a lovely thing to behold.

President Trump represents the last primal shriek of retrograde white men afraid to lose their power. He’s a dinosaur who evokes a world of beauty pageants, “suburban housewives,’’ molestation, cheating on your wife when she’s pregnant, paying off porn stars, preferring women to be seen and not heard, dismissing women who challenge you as nasty, angry and crazy.

Even as Fox hacks lambasted Harris as “transactional,” Michael Cohen dropped an excerpt from his tell-all describing life with Trump as a mob movie: “I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”

My latest: when you become what you came to change

There’s even a name for it. 

It’s in the dictionary and everything. The Merriam-Webster people define it as “government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.”

That’s what we’ve got in Canada, now. Our national government, the Justin Trudeau-led government, is that. 

It’s arrival was heralded in Friday night. The National Post’s Christopher Nardi story was headlined thus: “Trudeau government paying $84M to firm employing Katie Telford’s husband to manage rent assistance aid program.”

Katie Telford is the Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The sub-headline read: “The PMO says Telford had nothing to do with the contract between Robert Silver’s firm and a federal crown corporation.”

When the story landed, you could practically picture Trudeau’s factotums congratulating themselves: the story had come out on a Friday evening, when no one would really notice it. One-day wonder, they’d tell themselves, then go back to Googling their names and posting selfies. 

But then the Globe and Mail published, too. 

“Spouse of PM’s chief of staff had meeting on Liberals’ rent-relief program,” read the headline on the Globe story, written by Marieke Walsh. 

The lede paragraph expanded on it: “The spouse of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff took part in a meeting with the Crown corporation responsible for the government’s commercial rent-relief program after the company where he works was awarded the contract to administer the program, and before the contract was extended.”

Both stories were atop their respective web sites. And, at that point, Trudeau’s insular little clan may have fretted, a bit. But then they reminded themselves: the boss had been found guilty of taking gifts from lobbyists, and he got through it. 

And he – and his staff – had conspired, 22 separate times, to stop the criminal prosecution of a corrupt Quebec-based corporate donor. And they’d driven out two brilliant women – one Indigenous – who tried to stop them from doing it. 

And there was the time the boss had been caught wearing racist blackface – not once, not twice, but three times! 

And they’d gotten re-elected anyway. 

So this latest controversy – wherein Trudeau and his cronies had again been caught prospering in the middle of a pandemic that has seen millions of Canadians lose their jobs – wasn’t such a big deal, to them. They all gave a Trudeauesque shrug, and went back to seeing how many likes they were getting on Instagram. 

But they should care. They should. 

It’s true that voters hear the “scandal” allegation too often. The media, and politicos, allege wrongdoing all the time, and thereby become the boys and girls who cry wolf. 

It’s also true that no one has been outfitted with an orange pantsuit and handcuffs, and trotted off to Millhaven yet. That is true, as Nixonian as it sounds: no one has gone to jail yet. 

And it’s true that the coronavirus pandemic should be the biggest concern of every one of us. The virus has infected tens of thousands of Canadians, and killed 9,000 of us. It has shattered our economy, and changed the way we live our lives. All true. 

But the reason why all of Justin Trudeau’s latest scandals are so profoundly, irretrievably scandalous is just that: the pandemic. Because the allegation is that Trudeau’s cabal sought to enrich themselves during a pandemic that is impoverishing millions of Canadians. 

What’s the problem, the dwindling number of Liberal partisans ask? The problem is this: the governed were losing their homes, losing their jobs, losing their futures. While Trudeau’s gang were apparently making out like bandits.

That is not merely wrong, it is actually evil. It is beyond the pale. Beyond words. 

The Prime Minister’s mother, being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by a “charity” to give two-minute talks? His brother, too? His wife and his Finance Minister getting free trips? The children of cabinet ministers getting jobs when they shouldn’t?

Those aren’t allegations. They are facts. They are things that have happened – provided by a vile, wicked “charity” that hired detectives to spy on Canadian reporters and their families. Was some of the public monies Justin Trudeau earmarked for his friends to be used to tail journalists? Isn’t that against the law?

It goes on and on and on. It never stops, this fetid, foul stew of corruption and moral blindness. Even during a pandemic, the Trudeau government’s descent into the muck continues unabated. 

So, there’s a name for what we’ve now got. There’s a name for a government like Justin Trudeau’s – a government run by those who seek status and personal gain at the expense of the rest of us.

It’s a kleptocracy. 

My latest: suck it up, Opposition whiners, and get to work

The metastasizing WE scandal has many tendrils, like a noxious weed.  It is spreading, inexorably, into the centre of the Trudeau government.  

It may kill it.

The fundamentals are well-known.  Justin Trudeau’s immediate family received hundreds of thousands in secret payments – after he became Prime Minister.  Trudeau thereafter handed a billion-dollar contract to WE, and no one else was permitted to compete for it.

WE spied on Canadian journalists and their families.  It hired Republican operatives to attack its enemies.  It spent hundreds of thousands on lobbyists in the US.  And, late last week, its staff were photographed carrying boxes of files out of its Toronto headquarters – to be taken where, we do not know.

Trudeau’s government has dropped precipitously in the polls, even against the leaderless Conservatives.  Its caucus are anonymously communicating their disgust to journalists, and there is talk of leadership change all over Ottawa.

So WE could topple Trudeau’s minority government.  How can the Opposition ensure that it does?  Ten ways.

1. Voters aren’t as motivated by scandal as journalists and politicos are. They’ve heard cries of “scandal” too often. Leaders and policies matter more, to them. But.

2. …but the role of every war room this writer has run is not to win the election. Our role is always to knock the other side off their agenda, so they can’t showcase their leadership and ideas. You can’t score when you are constantly trying to keep pucks out of the net.

3. That’s the political value of #WEscandal to the opposition. It gives them an opportunity to totally dismantle the Liberal Party’s leadership (the Trudeau brand, which is massive in Canadian politics) and the party’s policies (their response to the pandemic, which has been popular.)

4. The WE scandal is lethal to the Trudeau brand not just because it hurts Justin Trudeau. This seamy, sordid affair also touches his wife, his brother and (critically) his mother. This scandal reaches back in time. It muddies the name of PET and the family’s public service. That is a scandal without precedent.

5. The defining political event of our lives is the pandemic, and how governments respond to it. It’s why Trump will lose – and why Trudeau still could. Kickbacks to Trudeaus? A sole-sourced billion-dollar contract for friends? That means they used the pandemic – their key strength! – to line their pockets. That is unforgiveable and therefore politically deadly.

6. The Liberal Party is dropping in the polls because this scandal is damaging personally (to the Trudeaus) and politically (vis-a-vis the pandemic). Those are gaping wounds. The opposition need to keep picking at them until they’re infected. Make those the ballot questions; nothing else.

7. The smarmy, smug, smirking Keilburgers aren’t on the ballot.  The Trudeau brand, and his response to the pandemic: those are. The Opposition parties need to focus only on those. They need to use every means at their disposal to do so, but not with prosecutors who turn people off (Poilievre, et al.). They need to be disciplined –  which is easier said than done in the Twitter era.

8. Political reputations aren’t shredded in a single day. It takes many days to build one up, and many days to take one down. The Tories, NDP and Bloc need to commit to prosecuting this scandal over the long term.  They need to use their best people, and never let up, even when the media claim to be bored. They must be relentless.

9. The fact that the House isn’t really sitting is completely irrelevant. Political and media hacks love Question Period, but voters do not. They see it as what is wrong with the system, not what’s right. The Opposition must be creative: they need to prosecute the scandal in every possible venue, and not just in the cloistered confines of Parliament Hill. They need to make it ubiquitous.

10. In any war room I’ve led, I tell the young people who work for me the same thing, every day: if we force the other side to play defence 24/7, they can’t score and we can. The Opposition parties need to use this time to showcase their own leadership and policies. Because scandals don’t win elections – but they do create opportunity.

Use it.

Apology by Kristin Raworth

Kristin Raworth is a woman who works for the Alberta government and who used to follow me on Twitter. About two years ago, Raworth publicly tweeted at me that she had been sexually harassed by Kent Hehr, a Liberal member of the federal cabinet who represented a Calgary riding.

I quickly got in touch with Raworth privately, and cautioned her that she was making a serious allegation and that she needed proof. She insisted that she had proof, and would keep tweeting.

As expected, the news media took notice. After she went public, Raworth claimed that she was starting to receive “hundreds” of threats and attacks. She insisted that she was afraid and had PTSD.

I supported her; I believed her. I defended her on the radio, in newspaper columns, in social media, and on this website. I even worked to find her legal representation, pro bono.

There was an investigation into her allegations. Hehr stepped aside from the cabinet while the investigation was underway, but remained a member of the Liberal caucus.

Its results were not made public. Hehr apologized, however, and was later defeated in the 2019 election. Raworth went on to become a micro-celebrity, and commenced advertising herself as a #MeToo survivor.

I did not know her personally. I only met Raworth once, when she came to hear me speak at the University of Alberta’s faculty of law. She said she was a fan.

Raworth would also regularly message me privately, asking me to retweet statements that she had written on Twitter. I’d usually do so.

Last year, around Christmas, Raworth abruptly soured on me. She became very critical online. People choose sides in divorces, and Raworth didn’t choose mine. That’s fine. I wrote to her and said I was sad she felt the way she did, but I wished her the best. I ignored her after that.

Until the last night of March, that is. On that night, some of my readers sent me a screencap of a post Raworth had put on Twitter and addressed to national radio broadcaster Charles Adler and the entire #cdnpoli hashtag.

She told Adler I shouldn’t be allowed on his show because I “abuse” women, plural, and I had “hit my wife.” Those are quotes.

I was astonished; I was literally winded. I felt sick to my stomach that she – or anyone – could willfully publish such a despicable lie about me.

I went online to see if the tweet was still there. There were lots and lots of tweets; I couldn’t see it. I didn’t sleep much that night.

The next morning, I hired a lawyer and sent Kristin Raworth a libel notice. After a month, that has finally resulted in the apology you see above; the payment of my legal fees; and a substantial donation, at my insistence, to Equal Voice.

At the end of this sickening episode, I’ve only got three things to say. One, anyone who falsely alleges that I hit or abuse women, ever, is also going to get sued. And they are going to pay a steep price, as Kristin Raworth did.

Two, I wish I had never, ever supported Kristin Raworth.

Three, to Kent Hehr, wherever you are: I now wonder whether you deserved better.

I wonder that a lot.