In politics, money is like grease. It makes the process slippery (all the wheels run smoother) but when you get caught with it on your hands, it sticks to you like Crazy Glue. That’s what Senator Duffy, Nigel Wright, and Uncle Steve are now finding.
In this post I’m going to raise two issues: the first relates to Senator Duffy’s money and Uncle Steve’s willful blindness, and the second relates to what makes campaigns successful (hint: our money).
Senator Duffy’s “Bribe”
What we are hearing in the testimony of former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright in the Senator Duffy trial is that Mr. Wright thought that he could make the problem go away with money.
Mr. Wright says that he advised Prime Minister Harper’s right-hand man, Ray Novak, that he himself was paying for Senator Duffy’s indiscretion. Novak, on the other hand, says he had no knowledge of it, while a third person, Ben Perrin, former legal council, swears that Novak was at the meeting, did hear the information about the money, and did react to it.
I am reminded of an incident years ago when I am still involved with politics at the grassroots level. I am a member of the executive of a central Ottawa riding. We are all quite progressive on the executive but we are faced with meeting our candidate’s team who have just won the nomination. He is from the segment of the party that we refer to as the “shysters.” So, this meeting is half the executive and half his campaign team. At the meeting, his campaign team starts to talk about how they are going to circumvent spending limits or donation limits, I forget which. Either way they are talking about doing an illegal end run around the Canada Elections Act. The candidate, a barrister, weighs in on the conversation, inserting his sense of the law: “I think this is the kind of conversation you are supposed to have without the candidate present.”
You have to wonder how many other candidates have fallen to that urge to break campaign spending laws.
And of course, in more recent history, we have to remember that the Conservative Party of Canada is involved with the “in and out” shell game of illegally moving money around, to which the Party pleads guilty, and for which the Office of the Chief Electoral Office is eventually punished by Uncle.
“The buck stops here” was a sign that sat on President Truman’s desk. The idea was that he took ultimate responsibility. So, here’s what I don’t get about Uncle Steve: as Prime Minister, is he not ultimately responsible for at least his own office?
The question becomes. not whether Uncle Steve knew or not; the question is why did he not know?
I see three scenarios, and none of them make Mr. Harper look good.
Harper knoww about the money: How does a Prime Minister, who seems to have his finger into everything right the way across government – how can this man not know? If he does know, which of course the PM is denying, then Uncle Steve is a liar. And we cannot trust him.
Harper chooses not to know about the money: In this case, which seems most likely, the Prime Minister lets it be known to his staff that he does not want to know about such things, comparable to what I saw first hand at the riding level. In law, this comes close to the culpable act of “willful blindness.” If this is the case, then Uncle Steve breaches his duty of care. And we cannot trust him.
Harper really does not know about the money: In this case, his staff is hiding things from him and the Prime Minister is not aware of the goings-on in his own office. That makes him an incompetent boob. And we cannot trust him.
We would like to think that in elections, it is the wisdom of the electors that lead them to vote for the best. But by far the greatest determinant of an election outcome is the amount of money that is spent on advertising. Sad but true.
We would like to think that President Obama was first elected President because he was just such a better candidate. But in fact, he won because he grossly out- and overspent his Republican adversary – by almost a 6 to 1 margin,* using every possible technique to both raise funds and spend it.
And here in Canada, we have the proof of the efficacy of expensive advertising all around us: The Conservative attack ads of the last while have now created the truism that Justin Trudeau is “not ready for prime time.” That has become a political fact, whether real or not.
So, if we just sit back and assume that the Conservatives will be defeated, we are willfully ignoring the reality that the Conservatives have twice as much money as either of the other two parties. And they will use it, and they will use it to brutal affect.
We have a very generous campaign financing system: for every one dollar that a voter donates to a party, the government kicks in three dollars. Thus, for every four dollars that you donate, you will receive a tax credit of three dollars, to a maximum credit of $300. It’s a great deal. And it’s worth a great deal to the parties which are opposing the Conservatives.
Jeffery Simpson in the Globe and Mail – August 19, 2015 – The Duffy trial: A trip through the maze of improbabilities
*From the US Federal Election Commission:
Financial activity of 2008 presidential candidates and national party convention committees increased 80% in receipts over the 2004 presidential election, totaling more than $1.8 billion.The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (AZ), received $84.1 million in public funds to conduct his general election campaign and raised an additional $46.4 million for legal and accounting expenses.The Democratic presidential nominee, then-Sen. Barack Obama (IL), raised a total of $745.7 million in private funds for his primary nomination and general election campaign. It was the first time in the history of presidential public financing that a major party nominee declined to accept public funds for the general election.
Graphic Poster is my invention, using a photo copyright by IPGGutenbergUKLtd and used under a licence purchased from iStock.