When we first arrived in Canada, the two words we heard most on CBC News were "sponsorship scandal". And the two words we heard most from Opposition Leader Stephen Harper were "transparency" and "accountability".
Now three words should be on every opposition MP's lips: "in and out". The Conservatives have been cooking the books for the last five years. Now that it's all out in the open, Harper calls it an "administrative matter" and keeps the guiltiest parties in the caucus.
Jason Kenney uses the privileges his offices for campaign fundraising on our dime, revealing his strategy of targeting "ethnic" Canadians that we know he doesn't give a crap about otherwise. (And how do we know about this? Because Kenney's PowerPoint presentation was sent to Linda Duncan, NDP MP from Edmonton, instead of John Duncan, a Conservative from BC!)
Of course, these scandals are just garnishes on the gluttonous meal of anti-democratic, anti-human policies and legislation we've been treated to for more than five years (long versions here and here).
Yet we all fear the results of the next election, because Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is the weakest, most unappealing, most conservative Liberal imaginable, and the parties that represent more than two-thirds of Canadian voters cannot see their way clear to form a coalition.
Tory transparency fails
In-and-out scheme smacks of sponsorship scandal. Where’s PM’s fury?
By David Akin
During the general election of 2006, candidate Lawrence Cannon, now our foreign affairs minister, authorized funds from his local campaign to be used to buy television advertising in the Quebec City market — nearly 500 km away.
In the same campaign, Conservative candidate David Leskowski, running what would be a losing campaign in Thunder Bay, Ont., also allowed money from his local campaign to buy TV ads in the Toronto market — nearly 1,400 km away.
In fact, this happened more than 60 times in that election campaign. Local campaigns bought TV ads that were often never seen by potential voters.
This scheme was orchestrated by the national Conservative campaign. The national campaign had already hit its federally-mandated spending limit even though it still had buckets of cash the beavers in its back rooms were keen to use to help Stephen Harper beat Paul Martin.
So they came up with what we now call the in-and-out scheme: The national campaign would dump money in local campaign war chests. The local campaigns would send that money out to the national campaign to “buy” advertising.
The ad spending would count against the local campaigns even though the placement and design of the ads was controlled by the national campaign.
As icing on the cake, the local campaigns would qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer rebates for this extra spending.
The end result? The Conservatives had an extra million dollars to spend on advertising that their opponent didn’t have in what was a very tight race.
That extra advertising certainly could have changed the outcome in some ridings (one Quebec City riding was decided by less than 100 votes) and possibly even the election itself.
That was five years ago. Since then, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has concluded this whole scheme amounted to cheating. He refused to pay the federal rebates. The party sued and won. Mayrand appealed. This week, Mayrand won, with a unanimous panel of three Federal Court of Appeal judges ruling in his favour.
Separately, the enforcement half of Elections Canada, led by Elections Commissioner William Corbett, was pursuing his own investigation of this scheme, complete with a raid by the RCMP on Conservative Party headquarters in 2008.
Last week, Corbett’s investigation wrapped up and the Conservative Party, two Tory senators and two former party officials were charged with violations of election finance law. They face fines and even a short jail term if convicted.
This is a serious matter, particularly for a government that found favour with many voters because it promised to conduct itself differently after the sham that was the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
And yet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his MPs dismiss the flap, describing it as a minor “administrative matter.” The senators charged — former campaign boss Doug Finley and chief party fundraiser Irving Gerstein — are still in the Conservative caucus.
If Harper could punt Helena Guergis from cabinet and caucus for her never-proven misdeeds, surely the same standard requires him to ask Finley and Gerstein to step away from the caucus until this matter is resolved.
Harper’s failure to do so will disappoint those Canadians who voted for him in 2006 and in 2008 and who believed then in his promises of transparency and accountability.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is being called on to resign after his office sent out a letter to Conservative MPs asking for fundraising help to mount an ad campaign aimed at bolstering Conservative support among ethnic communities.
According to documents obtained by the NDP Thursday and released to the media, the Conservatives have hatched a media strategy that would specifically target South Asian and Chinese communities in the Greater Toronto Area.
The advertising plan is branded "Breaking Through: Building the Conservative Brand" and details of it were sent along with a letter on Kenney's letterhead seeking funds to support it. The materials ended up in the hands of NDP Linda Duncan but were more likely intended for Conservative MP John Duncan.
The NDP is accusing Kenney of abusing his privileges as an MP and minister to conduct partisan fundraising with his office staff and resources. Beyond using his own letterhead for fundraising purposes for the Conservative party, the documents show how keen the Tories are to lock in more of the ethnic vote the next time Canadians go to the polls.
Kenney has been leading the Conservatives' efforts over the last five years to improve his party's fortunes among ethnic voters.
"There are lots of ethnic voters," the media plan says. "There will be quite a few more soon. They live where we need to win." It notes that, "If GTA South Asians were to form a city, it would be the third largest city in the country."
The documents contain data showing voting patterns among Chinese and South Asian communities and highlight target ridings that are "very ethnic" in the Toronto area.
"Data proves hunch: we are losing. We are losing less badly now. Need to positively brand CPC in target communities," the PowerPoint presentation says.
. . .
The NDP is adamant that Kenney lose his job over the matter.
"In fact, this is resignation material right here. This might be the death rattle of Jason Kenney as the Minister of Immigration. It certainly should be," the NDP's Pat Martin told reporters following question period when the issue was first raised by the party's leader Jack Layton.
Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, shrugged off the controversy and the demand for Kenney's resignation when he appeared on CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon.
"The minister has said that it was a mistake for the letterhead to appear on this particular letter," Poilievre said, adding that Kenney has referred the matter to the Ethics commissioner.
Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc didn't go as far as calling for the minister's resignation but said Kenney has some questions to answer.