As my commenters were happy to point out, my last post on Senator Mike Duffy and Conservative political strategy was hilariously mistimed, since Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus mere hours later. I’ll cop to it: I was wrong, and superceded by events. There hasn’t been such a momentous blunder since Globe and Mail pundit John Ibbitson predicted that Bob Rae was “almost certain” to win the Liberal leadership campaign last year, only to have Rae confirm hours later that he wouldn’t be running in the campaign in the first place.
In my defence, I don’t get paid to be right.
Anyways, although I was wrong in the details, I stand by my broader point: the Conservatives probably do not think that the decision to have Stephen Harper’s personal chief of staff bail out Duffy will have a lasting impact on their political fortunes. To that end, although chief Nigel Wright has now left his post in a cloud of controversy, it’s worth noting that the Harper Conservatives have merely reverted to stage 2 of their standard story-killing strategy: they’re firing a staffer. This staffer happens to be an exceptionally able and accomplished Canadian businessman instead of a young activist recently graduated from a religious university, so it seems like more than it is. Once again, an aide has been sacrificed on the altar of Her Majesty’s Government.
And despite the present fixation of the media, there is every reason to believe that the Conservatives are correct in this evaluation. If the Conservatives are defeated in 2015, it probably won’t be because the Prime Minister’s Office bailed out a senator who had been caught filching on his “living expenses.” Even if some people, and especially some journalists, will say otherwise.
Consider. What about the Duffy scandal would turn people against the government? Is it the fact that sitting politicians are being suborned with cash supplied by Harper? Surely not. If that were the case, then people would have turned against Harper after it was revealed that his representatives offered a terminally ill MP a $1 million life insurance policy in exchange for voting against Martin’s Liberals in a budget vote.
Is it the fact that the Prime Minister’s Office chose to defend Duffy by whatever means necessary instead of casting out a known abuser of the taxpayer? Again, surely not. Bev Oda burned through much more than $90,000 double-booking 5-star hotels and ordering the most expensive orange juice know to humanity, with no lasting impression on the polling numbers. Tony Clement diverted $50 million from the border security budget into a gazebos-and-sidewalks slush fund for his riding, yet even reporters seem to have forgotten about it. Even fewer eyebrows were raised when it was revealed that the Conservatives effectively funnelled almost $300 million in subsidies to the tobacco industry through a poorly-thought-out farm aid program. And most recently, the Auditor-General reported that the government had “lost” $3.1 billion in counterterrorism funding, with quite literally no idea who had spent the money, let alone what it had been spent on. So obviously it’s not that.
Or maybe it’s the casual disregard for accountability and ethics? No, I really don’t think it’s that, either. The Harper government has already skated past rulings that ministers flouted the ethics code by manipulating CRTC deliberations, meeting with friends who wanted government contracts and subsidies, etc. There was barely a peep of discontent about that. And it’s hard to get any worse than attempting to rig an election, yet the Conservatives have been convicted of doing so once, a Conservative staffer has been charged with doing so on a second occasion, and the Conservative Party remains under investigation by Elections Canada in many additional instances. After a few weeks of media hype, all those things passed and are now largely forgotten.
Or perhaps it’s the fact that, unlike most of the above scandals, this one reaches straight into Harper’s own office? That’s certainly a regular media refrain at the moment, but it’s transparently silly. This is hardly the first scandal to touch on senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office. Bruce Carson faced charges of influence peddling during the 2011 election. Keith Beardsley also had his knuckles wrapped for illegal lobbying. And of course Harper’s first chief of staff, Ian Brodie, got caught up in a scandal about leaking diplomatic information in an attempt to sabotage Barack Obama’s presidential campaign back in 2008.
All of this returns me to my initial thesis: the majority of Canadians simply don’t care much about these sorts of things. This includes the 40% of people who simply don’t vote at all, as well as another 20% or so who we can count on to vote for a conservative party regardless of what sins that party’s leadership may have committed, simply because conservatives are cool and liberals are socialists.