If I had a shred of real optimism left, I’d say the wheels are starting to fall off of the Harper bus. But I have no such shred left. Instead all I have is a sinking suspicion that yet another wave of pro-government editorials will soon sweep the free press, everyone will comment mindlessly on the latest poll from Nanos, and then it will be back to normal again.
Which is why the recent surprise resignation of minister Peter Penashue should not be allowed to pass unmarked. To recap, Minister Penashue stands accused of vastly exceeding his election spending limit (illegal), and then, having done that without raising sufficient funds to pay the bills, engaging in a stream of further illegal behaviour to try and cover up the debts: soliciting corporate donations (illegal), soliciting a virtual corporate donation in the form of a massive write-off of his airfare bill (illegal), failing to pay back loans on schedule (illegal), and arranging a massive bail-out loan from an aboriginal development organization (not necessarily illegal, although it was originally reported as being interest-free, which is illegal but was apparently done in error.)
In response, this past week, Penashue resigned his seat and says he will now run again to let the voters of Labrador decide whether he can remain in office. What’s more, the Conservatives have stated that, in the ensuing byelection, they will be selecting Penashue as their candidate.
They’ve crossed the Rubicon. Penashue’s decision to run again is less extraordinary than the Conservative decision to keep him as a candidate. The reason is this: contrary to what the Conservatives now claim (and contrary to what the media appears to have bought, hook, line, and sinker), when it comes to election fraud, Penashue is not accountable first and foremost to the voters of Labrador. He is accountable to the law, just like every other Canadian. With this latest announcement, the Conservatives have indicated that they accept that illegalities occurred but that the guilty parties should be given a free pass as long as a plurality of voters in a riding agree that he’s still their guy..
Several remarks are noteworthy here. First, I have not noticed any professional journalist yet asking the obvious question: what happens to Elections Canada’s ongoing investigation of Penashue’s illegal behaviour? Has Elections Canada, behind the scenes, agreed to suspend its investigation in exchange for him running in a by-election? This would be an extraordinary breach of public faith by our elections regulator, especially because nobody involved — least of all Elections Canada — has yet stated formally and on the public record exactly what transgressions the voters of Labrador should be taking into account when they cast their new ballots. In 2011, Elections Canada agreed to withhold vital information from the public about the profligate misspending of Government House Leader Peter Van Loan until after ballots had been cast. The best-case scenario is that this is more of the same.
It’s also more of the same in the sense that the Conservatives are once again claiming that there is no such thing as political responsibility. Everything, we are told, was done by an inexperienced staffer. There can be no blame laid at the feet of Penashue — not even the blame for hiring this allegedly incompetent person in the first place. I can just imagine, in contrast, how the Canada Revenue Agency would react if I sent them the following letter (which, I’ll take pains to emphasize, refers to entirely fictitious circumstances):
Hi, CRA. With respect to that audit of $50,000 in unpaid taxes you notified me of, I want you to know that some mistakes were made by somebody else. Whoops! I guess I shouldn’t have given that homeless dude a $10 Tim Hortons gift card in exchange for filling out my tax forms. I want you to know that I’m going to hire a real accountant this time around, and I’m even going to file a new tax return in place of the old one. So no hard feelings, right?
Right. Frankly, the fact that the Conservatives don’t simply boot him to the curb is extraordinary. It’s not as if Penashue is an influential or accomplished politician. The fact that they don’t see the need to simply replace him with some other warm body, of which there must be more than a few in Labrador, shows what a kleptocracy the Harper Cabinet has become. With this action they’re saying that if known and self-confessed election fraudsters, scam artists, and other miscreants want to run for election under the Conservative banner, well, that’s jolly good. They’re a big tent party, and all that!
Which is where we get to my “Rubicon” comment. Voters have not yet been given an opportunity to cast a ballot with the final results of the “in and out” scam in mind — although, in fairness, the pro-Conservative minority which elected the present government has already given every indication that election fraud is just fine and dandy with them, too. Voters did go to the polls in 2011 with the question of contempt of Parliament in mind, or should have at any rate, and at that time the winning plurality determined that unwritten conventions of Parliamentary good conduct are not important to them. That’s a decision I find hard to stomach, but whatever. They did.
What no Canadian voter has been asked to do in recent memory, at least that I can think of, is to cast a vote in favour of someone who freely acknowledges that their campaign attempted to win an election by fraud. The symbolic implications of letting Penashue run at this point in the game, let alone of him winning, should be obvious to anyone with even a modicum of critical thinking capacity. If Penashue is re-elected, it will send a strong signal to those in Ottawa — those of all parties — that the election laws are mere token scraps of paper.
I should think that Conservatives would understand, if nothing else, the value of law and order. I guess I was wrong on that. Canada’s “law and order” party has become Kleptocrats R Us.