According to word on the street, the Yukon may soon be on the search for a new MP. Recently elected Ryan Leef is said to be considering leaving politics, and a byelection could be imminent, although it’s also possible that a dozen of Leef’s Conservative colleagues might be about to jump ship at the same time, calling into question the sustainability of the entire government.
The rumour on the Hill is that the opposition parties are spoiling for a fight, and if the government’s numbers dropped below a majority, they would be dumped on the first motion of confidence that came along. It’s quite possible the Conservatives will decide not to waste time and money on byelections when a general election may be on the immediate horizon.
Not one word of the above is true. I made it all up. Not only is it a pack of lies, it’s inflammatory, and could hurt Mr. Leef’s reputation and career. I ought to be ashamed of myself. According to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Sheer, “attempting to sow confusion in the minds of voters as to whether or not their member is about to resign is a reprehensible tactic.”
Sheer wasn’t after me. He was responding to a complaint by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler that a firm hired by the Conservative Party had been canvassing his Montreal riding and spreading precisely the same rumour I’ve just spread about Leef. Though a Conservative himself, Sheer found that under the current regime, a “climate of cynicism – not to say contempt – about parliamentary institutions and practice … seems to prevail.”
The Speaker fell short of finding that Cotler’s parliamentary privilege had been breached, though he sounded for all the world as though he really thought they had. Expressing his understanding that Cotler would want to seek “relief,” he went on to say, “I fear that such relief is not within my gift. The Speaker’s powers in these matters are limited.” It’s not clear at this point whether it was parliamentary rules or concern for his own future in the party that stood between Sheer and the power to grant relief.
Cotler’s riding of Mount Royal would be a real coup for the Conservatives, who have no seats in Montreal. Once held by Pierre Trudeau, it’s a Liberal stronghold that shows signs of weakening. With that in mind, the Conservatives are pulling out all the stops. In addition to blitzing the riding with slimy phone calls, they have installed their defeated candidate, Saulie Zajdel, to a senior post in the heritage branch, where he’s been taking the unusual step of setting up meetings with municipal politicians where he promises to steer money their way. Or, as Cotler put it, Zajdel is acting as a “shadow MP.”
It was wrong of me to suggest in my introductory paragraphs that Ryan Leef will be leaving politics before the next general election. Even though, unlike the Conservatives, I came clean right away, it was still reprehensible. Or was it? Government House Leader Peter Van Loan would say that by repeating unfounded rumours I was simply exercising my right to freedom of speech.
An anonymous Conservative spokesperson justified the dirty tricks campaign against Cotler as “political parties doing their work” and suggested the Liberals might better do the same, while Conservative MP John Williamson said, “This is an important part of the political process.”
In an alternative view, all these schemes and manipulations are a blot on the political process. One of the privileges of citizenship in a democratic country is to weigh the promises, platforms and policies of each candidate and make an informed decision. Beware of governments that go out of their way to subvert this process with tricks and chicanery.
As I write this, the Conservative party appears unfazed by the brutal finger-waggling it took from the Speaker. Cotler is expecting the rumourmongering to stop now, but no one in the party has made any such promise. To judge by the rhetoric to date, it’s business as usual, and the usual business is sleaze. If anything at all is gained from this sorry affair, it’s that Canadians know their government just a little bit better.
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.