Well, at least we have it confirmed for us. The reason that Vic Toews is a Cabinet minister despite being convicted of election fraud, the reason that Peter Penashue is allowed to stand as a Conservative candidate despite being responsible for similar violations of the law, the reason Peter Van Loan is still House Leader despite committing similar violations of the law, the reason Gary Goodyear is still science minister despite violating the elections law, and the reason that Tony Clement was promoted in Cabinet despite a Sponsorship Scandal-sized diversion of border security funds into park-building in his cottage country riding, the reason so few Conservatives are troubled that their party committed election fraud in 2006 and is under investigation for doing so in 2011, is that to Harper’s Conservatives, corruption isn’t actually a vice at all. It’s a virtue:
“’I attained and pushed for managed to get $85 million for the road, on the Trans-Labrador Highway. I will tell you this. If I was not there, that road, that money would not be spent there. The money would be spent somewhere else,’ Penashue said.
“’I will tell you a secret. I did not sign the approvals in Newfoundland until I had my $85 million for the road in Labrador, and I held their project for six months,’ Penashue told a cheering crowd.”
That’s Cabinet minister turned disgraced Labrador candidate Peter Penashue, explaining to his former constituents why they should re-elect him.
What’s interesting about this isn’t which project in Newfoundland was delayed so that Labrador could get its highway, although that’s the question the few journalists who even care about corruption anymore are clamouring for an answer to. The question is how Conservative supporters have become — if indeed they have become, as Penashue and his handlers seem to think — so greedy, morally degraded, and contemptible that baldfaced lies about how corrupt their politician is will somehow be appealing to them.
Some of us are old enough to remember that before stepping down to run in the by-election, Penashue was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for questioning whether the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs has the final signing authority on any multi-million-dollar investment projects at all, let alone that he withheld one or more for months as leverage to secure investment in his own riding. In the past fiscal year, his proactive disclosure report shows exactly zero grants or contributions. (No doubt that’s because he’s withholding his signature until the federal government agrees to move its payroll centre to Happy Valley-Goose Bay or something.)
The worst-case scenario, of course, is that Penashue is telling the truth. As unlikely as that may sound. I can’t imagine what projects he would be able to delay, but it would be a spectacular admission of willful negligence on his part (since he is the Cabinet representative for Newfoundland) and a very useful insight into how the Harper Cabinet works. It would be useful to know whether Cabinet ministers treat all non-Cabinet ridings as bargaining chips to feather their own nest, or whether only opposition ridings are singled out for this sort of collective punishment.
In less than a decade, this country has moved from sponsorship scandal being a national embarrassment to sponsorship scandals being something to brag about. And you can thank Harper’s Conservatives for that.
In the meantime, at least we have one question answered for us. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the Prime Minister’s Office is actually not, as some columnists have claimed in recent days, carefully scripting every word that comes out of Penashue’s mouth. It’s hard to imagine the PMO deciding that this would be an intelligent thing to say. Although I suppose I shouldn’t put anything past them.