If you happen to live in the Sussex Drive area of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and hear the sound of ravens cackling during the day as they come home to roost, don't be alarmed. They're not coming for you, but rather settling in at 24 Sussex Drive, official residence of the Canadian Prime Minister.
Some nasty stuff is beginning to swirl around the Conservative Party of Canada just now and you can bet that the Liberal party is going to be there, attempting to inflict as much damage as possible. The cracks in the veneer have been starting to show for a while and now the breath of scandal is in the air. There's nothing that a party as corrupt and venal as the Liberals like more than being able to assume the air of violated virgins.
The Conservative Party should have known better and not even offered the Liberals the teeniest straw from which to start building bricks to toss at them. Having spent the past three or so years on the defensive because of the Sponsorship scandal, the Liberals are desperate to go on the offensive. Nothing makes a political party feel better than to be able to scrape off some of the excrement smeared on their faces and throw it right back at their former accusers.
The Conservative Party of Canada eked out a minority government in the past election by promising a change from the corruption and ineptitude of the previous administration. Good, clean, open, and accountable government was what they promised Canadians. The Conservatives would be different, claiming the Liberals had become arrogant and out of touch with the needs of real Canadians.
They just never said in which direction the differences would lie. Every one assumed they meant they'd be less arrogant, more open, and less devious. But the Steven Harper-led Conservatives have proven that you don't have to have been in power for any length of time, or even have a majority government, to scale the heights of arrogant disregard for public opinion.
Garnering less than 40% of the popular vote in an election and less than half the seats in parliament means, in most people's minds, that there will be some hesitations about your policies. You would think a government in that situation might temper its approach and seek out conciliatory means of implementing policies, perhaps listening to what the people of Canada want instead of simply imposing policy.
While the majority of Canadians support same-sex marriage, softening of marijuana laws, agreed with the former Liberal government's day care proposal, and the Kelowna accord signed with all the provinces and the Assembly of First Nations last November, the Conservatives decided they knew better. They decided their day care plan was superior to the one the Liberals had worked out with the provinces. Even though it would do nothing to create more desperately needed spaces or help those who needed it most, single parents, they made the unilateral decision that it would be better. No need to consult with the provinces at all. Just because they happen to have jurisdiction over day care doesn't mean they should have any input on policy.
Even though the majority of Canadians think there are far too many people in jail for having smoked marijuana, the Conservatives know better. They know that we must continue with the war on drugs and keep increasing the strain on our overburdened prisons and the taxpayers to keep our streets safe from such ner'-do-wells.
Ever since the Supreme Court of Canada said it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to deny same-sex couples the right to marriage, provinces across Canada have been quietly passing resolutions allowing gay marriages. Nothing’s been said mandating religious organizations to perform same-sex unions if it goes against their belief; all that's been guaranteed is the right to a civil union.
With same-sex marriage now protected by the Charter of Rights, it is impossible for any government to prevent them from taking place without invoking the Not Withstanding Clause that allows it to override civil liberties decisions made by the court. In spite of that fact, Steven Harper has been promising an open vote on the issue by this fall. He's not answered whether he'd be willing to invoke the Not Withstanding Clause; he just keeps nattering on about protecting the sanctity of marriage. In other words, he's playing to his constituents and making it seem like he can do something that is not within his power to accomplish and that he has no intention of doing.
Maybe he figures he can define himself as both defender of "family" to the social conservatives while not alienating the social liberal vote he needs to win another election. Perhaps he thinks they don't read or listen to the news so they won't notice he's talking out of both sides of his mouth. Or maybe he thinks people are just too stupid to know what he's doing. It's a good thing this isn't an arrogant government.
Mr. Harper promised what he called “accountable government,” one that would be open and transparent with all its dealings with the Canadian people. To that end, he has forbidden all Cabinet Ministers and backbenchers to talk with the press. He has abolished post-caucus press conferences and has almost completely refused to have anything to do with the media at all.
Whenever a politician doesn't want his policies analysed, is worried about being caught out in "miscommunications," or having the fallacies of his programming dissected by the media, he or she will immediately announce they "will only speak directly to the public." In other words, they will never be publicly questioned by the media about decisions or have their own words thrown in their face in public. They will pop out in front of the cameras, read a carefully constructed speech praising themselves, and vanish again.
You see, nothing is their fault. The public would love their ideas if only the press wasn't so hard on them or on a continuous witch-hunt because of their political bias. Isn't it weird how every government, no matter what their political leanings, are the victims of anti-them bias in the media?
When a party is in opposition, they love to talk to the media about how important they, the press, are when it comes to ferreting out the true story. As soon as they become the government and the true story happens to be about them, while that's a whole other matter. Everything is all of a sudden slanted to make them look bad, the press are out to get them, and the public isn't getting the true picture of how great they are doing. They are getting exactly the same treatment that every other ruling party has received, but somehow or other it all of a sudden has become media bias.
So much for Mr. Harper's open government. It didn't last until his swearing in as Prime Minister. Before the caucus was even in their seats in the House, backbenchers were under orders that they were not to speak to any member of the press without permission from the Prime Minister's office first. Shortly after, this was extended to ministers of the Cabinet as well so that all members of the Conservative Party caucus could now speak with their master's voice.
These are the things that get the ravens starting to take an interest. It looks like there could be some carrion coming, but for them to start roosting takes a little more than just run of the mill average political misdeeds. The Liberal party thinks they might have found something based on the new legislation dealing with campaign contributions. The law now states that no individual may donate more then $1000.00 to any political party and corporations are not allowed to make contributions to a party, only to the riding association that their business is in.
According to the Liberals, the Conservative party of Canada, unlike all the other parties, did not issue receipts for any amount of the fee charged to delegates for attending their last convention. As each individual paid $600.00 and corporations $750.00, this could have easily put many individuals over the top of their limit and could be seen as corporations donating directly to the national party, which is forbidden. The Conservatives are claiming, since no tax receipts were issued, that these amounts couldn’t be considered donations even though, in the past, all of the parties have issued receipts for these types of fees. A sizable percentage of the fee is used for what could be deemed charitable purposes under the Charities act.
It is accepted practice to allow charities to issue tax receipts for admission charges over and above what is considered paying for services. It's the same principle in effect if a theatre company has a special fundraising performance where the money paid for the admittance, above and beyond the ticket price, is considered a donation.
In case you think the Liberals are just making trouble, if it is found that by not declaring these amounts as donations the Conservatives are in breach of the law, they themselves will be in a real quandary. The Liberal's upcoming convention requires a fee of $995.00 for admission. If all of that is considered a donation, it means that only people who have donated less then five dollars since January 1st/06 can attend.
Their motivation is two-fold: one is to try and nail the Conservative's hides to the wall for talking out two sides of their mouth about integrity and financial reform. Two, it is to see if the Conservatives have changed the laws without telling anybody. No matter how you slice it, the Conservative won't come out looking good from this one without returning a lot of money. They’ve either been caught exceeding the amounts allowed for contributions from individuals and accepting contributions from corporations in a manner not allowed, or they have technically done nothing illegal – having been morally and ethically slippery by redefining unilaterally what are considered donations.
According to the way the Liberal's lawyers are interpreting the Income Tax Act, any amount a taxpayer gives to a political party is a monetary contribution under the Elections Act. In English, this means that no matter how you slice it, if you give a party money it counts towards your total. Of the 2,900 people who attended that little get-together last spring, the Conservatives had better hope none of them donated more then $400.00 over the rest of 2005.
How they are going to explain away the corporate donations is another story, as that's been completely illegal since 2004. If the Liberal interpretation turns out to be correct, the Conservatives are going to find themselves with quite a mess on their hands.
After an opening six months of proving they can be just as arrogant as any other party and have no conception of what the word accountable means, a nice little scandal involving illegal campaign contributions is just what's needed to get the ravens landing outside the windows on 24 Sussex, muttering under their breath words that sound suspiciously like "never more."