A tantalizing whiff of scandal

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I've refrained on commenting on the alleged Conservative convention fee brouhaha because the issue looked to be fairly murky. Now it appears that things are getting cleared up a bit, and the picture that's forming doesn't look good for Stephen Harper's party.

OTTAWA (CP) - While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative party continued to insist they're on the right side of financing laws, former party officials and experts said they have a completely different understanding of the rules.

Harper told reporters Friday that his party followed financing rules when it didn't publicly disclose fees paid to attend a March 2005 convention - an amount that could represent as much as $1.7 million.

Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley has now asked to examine the party's financial records around the convention. The Liberals want the money from the convention fees put into a trust fund until Kingsley's review is over.

"All the laws have been obeyed and the Liberals will have to obey them as well - that's the tough part," Harper said as he left an event to promote the lowering of the GST.

Oooh, nice little parting shot against the Liberals, there Stephen, but I am afraid that despite your insistance, it's is looking more and more like you guys did indeed break the law, or, to put it in terms your party would use were this a Liberal or NDP issue, built a culture of corruption and entitlement that led you to believe you were above the law. Despite the Cons protestations of innocence, past bigwigs from the Conservative Party's previous incarnations say the PM is spouting nonsense.

Former officials from both the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance, the parties that created the Conservative party, said the common practice they followed was to disclose convention fees paid by their members as political donations.

"I'm absolutely positive we always gave out political receipts, minus the amount paid for meals, but everything else was always treated as a political donation," said Bruck Easton, former president of the Progressive Conservative party. "That was quite frankly an important part of getting people to our convention."

Rick Anderson, a top organizer and executive member of both the Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance, said his recollection is that both parties followed the same practice as the Liberals and NDP.

"My memory is that everybody one way or another wrote a cheque out to the party and got a receipt for it," Anderson said.

Anderson said he recalls meetings where Reform officials "agonized" over the rules governing party finances and at which they ultimately decided "as far as I can recall, choosing to do what everybody else did."

Doing what everyone else does - or common practice - is an important part of the party financing system, points out Leslie Seidle, a former executive at Elections Canada.

He said there's an elaborate set of common practices and legal opinions the parties agree to over the decades.

Seidle, who is now with the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said the Conservative argument that they didn't need to disclose the fees because the convention didn't make a profit doesn't hold water.

"If you carried that logic forward, you could argue that if you made a contribution to a political party and the party was in the hole for the year in question, it wouldn't necessarily need to report all the donations that were the difference from being in the hole and not in the hole," said Seidle.

"The important thing is there is money in, and a service out...it's a kind of income and expense issue."

Another student of Canadian electoral law, University of Windsor Professor Heather MacIvor, said she was stunned to hear the party's explanation on failing to disclose the fees. MacIvor recently wrote a critique of the government's new financing laws, part of its much vaunted Federal Accountability Act.

"Wait a minute folks, you're trying to say you're cleaning up politics and you brought in this seriously draconian tightening of the contribution rules, and now we find out you didn't disclose a few million dollars of contributions, which every other political party in this country has treated as a contribution for the purpose of the contribution rules?" MacIvor said.

"That's not on."

If this does blow up, Harper is going to stink to high heaven. He's been front and centre in strongly denying these charges, despite the efforts of his handlers to insulate him from the press. (Hiding behind a convenience store, Mr. Harper? Not very prime ministerial of you.) Now every charge of Liberal corruption Harper flings will bear the unmistakable taint of hypocrisy.

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Its beginning to smell pretty ripe - and just in time for Canada Day, too - oh the irony!

So here we have yet again Harper and the CPC doing revisionist history to justify their own past actions while at the same time playing partisan games with the Liberal leadership convention rule changes in the Accountability Act. Either one on it's own was distasteful enough but when you put them together as they are with the Senate taking up the AA and this attempt by Harper to claim that this way of understanding this was the right and legal way and that everyone else did this when the exact opposite is provable and proven truth it takes on a whole new unpleasant flavour. This is not a small matter and it is not even just about Harper's hypocrisies but something I believe to be far more important and disturbing. That being his contempt for playing by the commonly agreed upon rules for politics and governance of this country in the traditions we have developed over the many decades.

This demonstrates a high level of contempt for the notion of fair play, which is a core component of the Canadian character and culture. Indeed, it is part of what gets mocked with sneers about the dangers of tolerance and compassion causing us to extend rights to those that would not do so to us if they could, never quite grasping that this sense of fair play in our natures is what really drives it. We do this because we would hope to receive that which we extend were we in the weaker roles, indeed that is arguably a cornerstone of true civilization. It underpins the idea that when facing legal jeopardy and all that entails that one must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We do this because it is important when fighting "evil" to not become that which we are fighting against, something that gets lost when one lets their outrage and in too many cases bloodlust rule instead of good sense and the rule of law.

Here we see the Prime Minister himself telling Canadians something that is demonstrably false regarding the rules of political contributions, his party's legal council going even farther into revisionist history with his claim that this was not a new practice but something done in the past and by others, and continuing to point fingers at the Liberals whenever the topic of corruption comes up EVEN WHEN IT IS IN HIS PARTY it is being brought up about. If this continues to go as it appears to be going Harper has put himself way out there on a tree limb that will not support his weight in effect significantly damaging his credibility on his most often used topic/weapon against the Liberals and others regarding abuse of power and other forms of corruption and radical practices at odds with precedent.

This is about the mechanics of how our political parties operate to become our governments in this country, that is what this is about, and Harper prefers to lie and insult the intelligence of Canadians by banking on their ignorance of this fact while using the abuses of the prior governing party in this area to try to gain his majority. The level of contempt for every voter that does not vote Conservative (and even for some of those that do, after all there are more than a few principled conservative voters despite their leadership out there) this shows is something that should send shivers up all of their spines. A leader and especially a PM that would do this sort of thing while on a morals crusade for the past few years and continuing it in office (while acting in an inherently unfair manner by changing the rules for the Libs to hurt them after the start of their campaign while bowing to pressure to exempt transition team members from lobbying in the AA) is capable of nearly any disrespect for the wishes of voters.

This is the act of a man that sees the most basic rules of political financing as a matter of convenience for him and his party, both in terms of advantaging themselves and in terms of disadvantaging any/all opposition parties. This is not what I believe Canadians of conscience of all political backgrounds would consider to be acceptable, and Harper is risking getting seen publicly as being something that offends Canadians as a people and not just within partisan aspects. He's already done it once with the attempt to stop coverage of repatriation ceremonies arbitrarily of dead soldiers, and while he managed to walk back quickly enough from that one he also had O'Conner to blame which he did. This time out it appears he is the point man along with Baird in the political arena on this one and he cannot walk away from this one so easily if it does hit the conscious awareness of the public mind that he is revising history and making false claims about serious issues of law and ethics/integrity.

Get out the beer and back bacon and watch the show unfold!

The Reformies have always been truth-challenged (or deluded, I can't always tell, exactly). I mean, everyone makes mistakes, but these guys never admit them very openly. And those of us in the reality-based community recognise that as the path to disaster.

The hypocrisy is worse, but Harper's snarky, partisan style is also very tacky in a prime minister. He was pretending for a while to be above that sort of thing, but the AA itself looked partisan and it's now drawing out his snarly side.

Yo... more breaking today on this.
See Somena Media Top Post on the Tory Cheque Swapping Scheme for details. :)

Donation Gate:

short summary here

Breaking This AM...
http://www.thehilltimes.ca/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2006/july/10/swap/&c=1
Elections Canada says Tory 'cheque-swapping' may be a violation of federal law
Legal expert says tax system used to maximize revenue at 2005 Conservative Party convention.
The Hill Times, July 10th, 2006
NEWS STORY
By Simon Doyle
Elections Canada says Tory 'cheque-swapping' may be a violation of federal law
Legal expert says tax system used to maximize revenue at 2005 Conservative Party convention. Elections Canada says the Conservative Party may have violated sections of both the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act by engaging in a "cheque-swapping" scheme at its 2005 national party's policy convention in Montreal, a system that one legal expert says is designed to maximize revenue. (read more - Top O'The Blog - Somena Media)

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This page contains a single entry by Tim published on June 30, 2006 5:32 PM.

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