Given that Silly Season seems to have arrived slightly ahead of spring down in the Ottawa Valley (where our money goes to die), it’s probably a solid indication that an election is in the offing.
The last federal election was largely about the lingering scent of Liberal corruption, and the Liberal-friendly media hounds are claiming to smell conservative blood in waters muddied by corruption.
There very well may be a hint of corruption in Ottawa, but digging below the surface reveals that the corruption may not be where some are expecting, nay hoping, it to be.
The so-called In-and-Out election funds shell game that has drawn the wrath and scrutinizing eye of Elections Canada may very well be illegal. The courts will decide.
But, even if the Supreme Court of Canada deems that election laws were broken, what is the real story here? Who are the victims? Was anyone actually wronged?
These are important questions to ask in light of other compelling facts.
I’ll dispense with one of the facts and comparisons first. The sponsorship scandal — Adscam — was a planned and deliberate scheme to defraud the taxpayers out of millions of dollars. Between $40 million and $100 million is completely unaccounted for, and is believed to have gone directly towards enriching the friends of the Liberal Party of Canada.
This was tax money and it was deliberately stolen. The Conservative monies in question were donated funds.
Any comparison between that scandal and the In-and-Out scandal is akin to comparing speeding to running a car theft ring.
We need to ask some other, more difficult questions. For example, Elections Canada by necessity must be diligently apolitical. It must literally be ruthless in applying internal controls against any form of political bias.
That’s why we should be deeply troubled by the fact that a CBC news crew accompanied the RCMP and Elections Canada officials when they raided Conservative Party headquarters when this story first broke a couple of years ago.
Knowing the hostility within MotherCorp towards the Conservatives, that alone raises very serious questions that only get more difficult as we go along.
Shortly after that raid, our chief electoral officer was questioned as to whether an investigation had been conducted as to the source of the leak within Elections Canada. His response was that he had personally investigated “himself and his staff” and had cleared “himself and his staff” of any wrongdoing. Hmmm.
The second question revolves around the fact that the federal New Democrats, according to internal emails that have been made public, did exactly the same kind of money shuffle that the Conservatives are facing charges for. To date, the NDP have not been charged under the Elections Act.
Roughly two years transpired between the Conservatives’ alleged offence under the Elections Act and the laying of charges. That isn’t surprising given the complex nature of the supposed offence.
The charges have survived two appeals, which speaks also to the complexity. One lower court has tossed the charges out, only to see them reinstated upon further appeal.
This, of course, leads us to a further question for Elections Canada officials. In July 2008, those Liberals who had contested for the Librano leadership in 2006 were granted an 18-month reprieve by Elections Canada on the deadline for retiring their campaign debts.
This deadline has been twice extended by the courts with no objections raised by Elections Canada, and as of today there are four former Liberal leadership candidates still soliciting donations to pay off their campaign debts.
At what point does Elections Canada quit cutting bait and start fishing regarding these violations of the Elections Act?
Admittedly, these are sizable debts, and some of the blame for Elections Canada’s actions must be placed upon Parliament for failing to ensure clarity in this area of law.
But in that light, the law that the Conservatives are accused of breaking is at least as equally murky, thanks to too many lawyers and not enough Grade 5 English teachers involved in parsing the wording of the statutes.
By ignoring on one hand multiple offences under the Elections Act, but acting quite zealously on another set of offences, Elections Canada runs the very real risk of appearing to be acting under the influence of a political machine.
That, dear readers, would be very dangerous indeed.
Bill Greenwood is a Red Deer freelance writer.