In February the Harper government ‘categorically’ denied that Conservative arm-twisters had offered the late Chuck Cadman a million-dollar life insurance policy on his deathbed if he would scuttle Paul Martin’s Liberals and force an election.
In the same week, Harper denied that his chief of staff leaked a memo that sent Barrack Obama’s numbers tumbling in the Ohio primaries.
The previous month the PM denied that Brian Mulroney had ever mentioned the name Karlheinz Schreiber in his hearing.
The Conservatives have denied illegally re-routing $1.2 million in election spending, a question now under investigation by Elections Canada.
They deny having interfered in the Ottawa mayoral election, though the mayor faces criminal charges related to the scheme.
They have thrice denied, in defiance of all the facts, that our troops in Afghanistan hand their prisoners over to torturers.
Among those who hold the highest office in Canada, a talent for denial is indispensable.
In the career of a prime minister accusations both true and false must sometimes be denied.
Some prime ministers are better at denying than others; it’s been said of Paul Martin that if he had mastered Jean Chretien’s Gallic shrug, he might still be in office today.
Harper has certainly been working on the shrug. He has a tendency to overdo it a bit — shrugging off the deaths of Canadian civilians in Lebanon, for instance, was a poor choice optically speaking — but he and his ministers have successfully denied their way through a year in office so far, shrugging off a seemingly endless parade of scandals.
The Conservatives have up to now been using fairly classic denial techniques. The minister stands up to stoutly fend off the latest accusation while his colleagues jeer and ridicule the questioner.
The minister then turns the accusation back at the opposition, and if the accusers happen to be Liberals, reminds them of their own recent past.
They keep this up until the scandal blows over or, more likely, is replaced by a new one, which will, in its turn, blow over too.
They’ve updated the script a little in response to the post 9/11 security situation, and now wherever possible accuse their accusers of supporting terrorism.
But Harper has struck a new note on the denial accordion with his lawsuit against Dion and two top Liberals over the Cadman affair.
He may soon wish he had stuck to the script; lawsuits have been known to come back to bite.
The stories on the Liberal website, which Harper says contain, “false and unfounded allegations of criminal misconduct on my part,” for the most part lay out the facts of the Cadman case as they are known today, and call for answers.
Top Conservatives Tom Flanagan and Doug Finley met with Cadman in May 2005.
No one denies that the meeting took place, and there can be no doubt that its purpose was to sway Cadman’s vote.
Cadman’s widow and his daughter, Dona and Jodi Cadman, both say the late MP told them the Conservatives offered him “a million-dollar life insurance policy” if he voted with them to oust the Liberals.
Dona is a declared Conservative candidate in her husband’s old riding.
Cadman himself never made public mention of the alleged bribery attempt.
Jodi Cadman speculates that was probably because he wanted to spend his last days out of the glare of the TV cameras.
Vancouver writer Tom Zytaruk uncovers the Cadman family’s allegations of bribery in his upcoming book, Like a Rock, the Chuck Cadman Story.
After Cadman’s death Zytaruk taped an interview with Harper in which he says Findley and Flanagan’s offers were “only to replace financial considerations (Cadman) might lose due to an election.”
Globe and Mail reporter Lawrence Martin has written that Conservative MP James Moore told him back in 2005 that Chuck Cadman didn’t want an election because it could cost his family a fortune in benefits, and that Conservative officials were in discussions with the ailing MP to relieve his anxieties on that score.
There may be an innocent explanation for all this.
If so, let’s hear it.
There’s no amount of shrugging, denial, threats or counter-accusations that can make up for the lack of a few simple answers.
What, if anything, did Findley and Flanagan offer Cadman?
What losses was Moore talking about and what redress was offered?
What did Harper mean about replacing financial considerations?
The longer the Conservatives stall on clearing up the Cadman questions, the more Canadians will be inclined to poke into the facts surrounding their long list of shrugged-off scandals.
With the denial machine broken down, the timorous Liberals may find their courage at last, and the government will finally fall.
A better Official Opposition might have brought the Harper government down over its multi-billion dollar corporate-giveaway budgets, its total failure to act on global warming, or its obscene game of tiddlywinks with the Afghan detainees.
But what a delicious irony if, by posthumously handing the weakened Liberals the good, juicy, denial-proof scandal they’ve been waiting for, Chuck Cadman should be the one to topple the Harper government.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.