The Conservative government of Canada kicked off this week with two more in a long list of bad news days.
On Monday, Canadians learned that Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier had mused publicly and prematurely about the possible removal of the governor of Kandahar, accused torturer Asadullah Khalid.
Bernier’s swiftly recanted off-the-cuff remark makes it all but impossible for Afghan president Hamid Karzai to get rid of Khalid in the near future.
Politically speaking, Bernier’s gaff is an embarrassment rather than a scandal, but it serves to remind Canadians of the as-yet unanswered charge that the Conservative government continued to instruct the military to hand prisoners over to the Afghans after they had convincing evidence that those prisoners were being tortured.
A day later, TV camera crews recorded a police raid on Conservative party headquarters. Accompanied by members of the RCMP, Commissioner of Elections William Corbett was searching for documents related to alleged violations of spending rules in the 2006 federal election.
The Elections Canada story reminds us that the Conservatives came to power playing fast and loose with election rules.
According to CBC News, “The Conservative party of Canada, having reached the $18.3-million advertising spending limit set out under the Canada Elections Act, transferred cash to 66 local campaign offices. The local campaigns sent the money back to national party headquarters to buy local television and radio advertisements for their candidates.”
The “local” ads were identical to national adds, except that the candidate’s name was added at the end.
It remains to be seen whether charges will be laid in this obvious money-laundering scheme. It may turn out that by some technicality the Conservatives’ actions were not illegal, but the voters are not so blind as to miss the intent, which was clearly to get around the spending limits.
These should be heavy blows for the Conservatives. Their stalling and muddying the waters over allegations of war crimes should be political dynamite. As to fudging on election spending rules while trumpeting themselves as the “ethical” alternative to the Liberals, many a minority government has fallen over less.
But the Conservatives do not fall. Instead, Stephen Harper continues to run Canada as though he had a mandate from heaven, rather than from slightly more than a third of those Canadians who voted in 2006.
Vote after vote in the House, a week-kneed Liberal opposition props up Harper because it doesn’t see the poll numbers it wants before entering an election.
Stephane Dion’s early failure to capture the imaginations of the electorate has been compounded again and again as his party has voted for, or abstained from voting against, one Conservative confidence motion after another.
Liberals walked out and let Harper’s throne speech pass while carrying the offending statement that Canada can’t possibly meet its Kyoto targets.
Liberals supported a budget practically devoid of spending on global warming and the environment, Dion’s stated top priority, with no significant investment in infrastructure, which they’ve been demanding.
They voted with the government on its immigration bill, to which Dion had declared himself “adamantly opposed” on the grounds that it would invite “abuse of power.”
They retreated from their opposition to extending the Afghan mission, though 58 per cent of Canadians shared earlier Liberal opposition to the extension. They walked out on a Conservative motion to force Liberal senators to fast track the Omnibus Crime Bill without coveted Liberal amendments.
The Liberals have voted against their stated principals so many times to avoid an election that the Conservatives openly mock them for it.
This week, as Dion tried in vain to get some answers out of the government on the nature of the documents sought in Corbett’s warrant, the prime minister sneered, “(Dion) has thrown away all his ground on all the issues, now he’s just throwing mud.”
The Conservatives have been a disgrace to Canada, and should have been gone long ago. By continually bending the knee to Harper’s excesses while waiting for favourable political winds, the Liberals have condemned themselves to the electoral doldrums.
Now their only hope of a surge in support is that one of the Conservatives’ many scandals will come home to roost, and the Liberals will be elected by default.
Stop waffling, Stephane. Stop knuckling under. Suck it up and vote them down, and face the voters on your merits, whatever those might be.
If you’re going to lose, lose now, before any more of your dignity has been stripped away. And if you lose, quit. It’ll be embarassing to be the first Liberal leader in living memory not to make prime minister, but too bad. The country has bigger problems.
Opinion polls suggest that in an election today Harper would win at best another minority. Even that limited popularity might shrink under the scrutiny of a well-fought campaign.
Elections seldom completely fullfill the prophecy of the opinion polls. Who knows, Stephane, maybe you could win.
And if you don’t, what’s been lost? Even in the unlikely event that Harper wins a majority, why would that be any worse than sitting on your hands and letting him govern as if the majority was already his?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.