Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Gomery Opportunity

There's an old adage that for every problem, there is an opportunity. That's especially true now that the Gomery report on Adscam is out.

Phase 1 of Justice Gomery's report is now available at his website. I'd advise people to look especially at chapter 16, which explains whom people should want to hold accountable: Prime Minister Chrétien, Jean Pelletier, Chuck Guité, Alphonse Gagliano, the private agencies involved, and at the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada. (Do not confuse the latter with the provincial Liberal Party, which is Jean Charest's responsibility and has problems of its own.)

First, if Jean Chrétien is contemplating legal action, he'd be wasting his (and taxpayers') money. The conclusion was obvious ever since Adscam broke: the buck stopped with him. It's not really news that he was incompetent at the machinations of government; Gomery merely confirmed it:

Since Mr. Chrétien chose to run the Program from his own office, and to have his own exempt staff take charge of its direction, he is accountable for the defective manner in which the Sponsorship Program and initiatives were implemented. (chapter 16, page 428)

If Chrétien has any solace, it's that other great prime ministers have been dogged with similar wrongdoings: Sir John A. Macdonald's Pacific Scandal, for example. His problem is that he has no positive achievement to point to as proof of his vision of statesmanship. And because of that, Jean Chrétien will be remembered as a mediocre prime minister. He may as well accept that as his legacy.

Second, the most direct beneficiary of the Gomery findings is the Bloc Québécois, due to this statement:

The LPCQ as an institution cannot escape responsibility for the misconduct of its officers and representatives. Two successive Executive Directors were directly involved in illegal campaign financing, and many of its workers accepted cash payments for their services when they should have known that such payments were in violation of the Canada Elections Act. (Chapter 16, page 435)

Note that the paragraph is written in the present tense. It's certainly enough for the BQ to instigate public pressure for housecleaning in the Liberal Party of Canada, Quebec Region -- and that's tantamount to a win-win situation for the BQ in the next election.

Because if the LPCQ replace their senior people in response to Gomery, their logistical and administrative abilities are crippled, making it difficult to effectively organize volunteers and candidates during the next election. On the other hand, if there is no activity, the BQ can spend the entire campaign harping on the Liberals' refusal to clean themselves up. Either way, unless the BQ itself screws up (which is an unlikely possibility) one can expect a net loss of seats in Quebec for the Liberals.

Third, if the Tories want to score political points with the Gomery report, they won't be able to do it by blaming Paul Martin or anyone currently in Cabinet:

On the evidence there is no basis for attributing blame or responsibility for the maladministration of the Sponsorship Program to any other Minister of the Chrétien Cabinet, since they, like all Members of Parliament, were not informed of the initiatives being authorized by Mr. Pelletier, and their funding from the Unity Reserve. Mr. Martin, whose role as Finance Minister did not involve him in the supervision of spending by the PMO or PWGSC, is entitled ... to be exonerated from any blame for carelessness or misconduct. (Chapter 16, page 430)

What they need to do is a two-fold strategy. First they need to show voters whether the corporate culture that produced Adscam is too engrained within the Librano philosophy to allow them to stay in government. Angry_in_TO's examination of backbencher David Smith is a fair example of such an approach.

The second thing is to get out the Tory mindset for making government departments accountable. This is tricky because talking about the nuts and bolts of reform is a guaranteed insomnia cure, particularly when done by a wonk like Stephen Harper. But if Canadians can see that the Tories have good ideas for governing, then they'd be more inclined to give them a try than if they only heard carping about Liberal corruption.

As for the New Democrats, I'd have to agree with Reg at Putting the A in Smart that Don Laytone is in a bit of a bind. If he wants some of the NDP policy points enacted during the next session of Parliament, he's going to have to devote a fair bit of time to defending the Liberals on corruption, just to justify his own alliance -- and there's a very real possibility of backfire (i.e. losing soft left votes from the NDP during the election, particularly in Ontario and the West).