Who are the NDP and Conservatives to speak about accountability?
On Monday, the longest campaign in modern history will come to a close and if current polls are any indication, Canada may be seeing a change in government after 9 years of Conservative rule under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Accountability was his calling card in 2006 and today, accountability may very well be one of the defining reasons for his departure.
For a man who promised to clean up Ottawa with the Accountability Act following the sponsorship scandal of the 2006 election, Stephen Harper has had his fair share of mishaps. He has had MPs who routinely break electoral law – one of which, Dean Del Mastro, was recently sentenced to jail. His own office is under investigation due thanks to his judgement in appointing senators – a task he promised he would never do. Furthermore, Harper shrugs off his deplorable track record at accountability, all the while now being plagued with it under the “Harper Government” brand.
The Duffy Affair may still be sitting in the courts, but what happened is unbelievable. Harper once charged that a Prime Minister who said didn’t know what his staff was doing was either covering up or is unfit for the job and today, those words must ring loudly in his nightmares. For what it’s worth, it is possible that his right hand man, Nigel Wright, withheld the conditions that went behind a $90,000 cheque to try to bury the issue and furthermore, that the cover-up led by Harper’s friends Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk was done within a veil of fear. It is indeed possible that as a collective, the guilty parties deemed the affair so damaging to the trust they have been given that they did everything to hide it not only from the public, but from Harper himself. However, considering Harper’s stance on the matter, it is within political fairness that he face the same scrutiny he gave to his former rival Paul Martin in 2006.
There is no scandal like one that hits the Prime Minister’s Office. Harper once defended Nigel Wright and then threw him under the bus.
The Duffy Affair is not alone in Harper’s collection of accountability mishaps. His electoral history hasn’t exactly been clean. From the first election he won with the In and Out scandal, a money transfer scheme devised to dodge electoral spending limits to the Robocall scandal which plagued his majority win in 2011, Elections Canada has been in Tory cross-hairs for years – why else would they have brought in the Fair Elections Act?
The most surprising thing to remark is the NDP’s response to accountability. Not having been in government, their time as Official Opposition under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership has painted a fairly bleak picture about their capacity to clean up Ottawa. To begin, they opened satellite offices in Saskatchewan where they don’t hold a single seat and billed taxpayers $2.75 million. If that wasn’t bad enough, instead of owning up to it, Mulcair tried to fight inquiries into the abuse and lost. As of Friday, more than 60 NDP MPs will be forced to repay taxpayers $2.75 million. What kind of message does that send in terms of an NDP government? With more power they will further abuse their powers and claim they are justified and that the NDP can do no wrong. This NDP is certainly not Jack Layton’s NDP.
As if the satellite offices weren’t bad enough, the line between Parliamentary work and partisan work and staff blurred in Montreal where Parliament offices and NDP campaign offices were housed in the same building. For a party that wants to bring real change to Ottawa, the NDP will certainly have to draw clearer lines in their ethics.
On June 12, 2013, rather than hold Conservative MPs accountable as asked for by the then Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, the NDP voted with the Conservatives to protect them.
“Conservative MPs Shelly Glover and James Bezan are in legal trouble over financial filings from the last election campaign – Glover has the added accusation of running a misleading robocall campaign. Chief Electoral officer Marc Mayrand sent a letter to the Speaker, Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, asking that the two MPs be removed from the House of Commons. The Liberals asked for the letter, Scheer told them to find it online. The Tory MPs face serious allegations of electoral misuse and the NDP are going to support them on Monday.” – June 12, 2013
Moving forward, when the Liberals wanted to legislate transparency, the NDP played political games and defeated the bill. Eventually, all parties started following the Liberals’ lead and started posting MP expenditures online. At the time, it seemed surprising that the NDP would reject such legislation, the satellite offices go a long way to explain it.
For the Liberals’ part, the party is very different than what existed during the days of sponsorship and is run by a new set of people. Recently, the Liberal campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier resigned when allegations arose about an email he sent to oil lobbyists regarding strategies they could use in the event of a Liberal win. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are going to try to spin this rogue agent as a path back to the days of sponsorship but not only is this claim ridiculous and out of proportion, in comparison to their track record to date, it’s downright hypocritical. At least we will ignore the picture of Mulcair with former Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Tony Accurso as Quebec politics has shown to be a corrupt government. Furthermore, we won’t be spinning Mulcair’s encounter with a brown envelope during his time as a Quebec cabinet minister and who knows if he told the truth on whether he accepted it. In the present, at least the Liberals don’t have to repay $2.75 million today – without even having been in government – and considering the way Mulcair dealt with it, imagine had he been Prime Minister.
No matter how much a party strives to have the most ethical and accountable team, the goal in the end is that rogue agents – which will always exist – should be identified and punished and that their actions have minimal impact to the integrity of the government as a whole. Will Gagnier’s actions compromise a potential Liberal government’s integrity? Of course, the lobbyists have a play-book, but now that it has been thwarted, these strategies will likely be spotted and thwarted when said lobbyists make the attempt. Politically though, the Conservatives, NDP and the media would rather have you believe Gagnier is a train-wreck when in perspective, is a blip compared to the scandals of the Conservatives and, surprisingly, the NDP.
With the polls favouring a Liberal win Monday, it is no surprise the Conservatives, NDP and slanted media outlets want to keep the focus on the Gagnier Affair but it is pitiful that the media have not reminded Canadians of the lapses of accountability that happened not only in Harper’s mandates over the past 9 years (it’s his track-record that is rightfully on trial as sitting Prime Minister) but also more recently, how all parties have treated accountability. Gagnier aside, the Liberals are winners on accountability and spinning news from 2006 is just as ridiculous as saying the Conservatives or NDP with different leaders and different staff would be the same parties as they were and be responsible for the same scandals their past selves have faced.