Sunday, January 14, 2007

Putting the CON in CONservative

Originally posted at A BCer in Toronto

With a judge ruling that the Conservative Party of Canada must pay up to $50,000 to a former candidate that agreed to step aside for a star candidate in Ottawa-South, it’s time to revisit whether or not Steve Harper lied to the Canadian people to help win the last election campaign.We’ll get to that in a moment. I’ve been blogging about the Allan Riddell saga since December of 2005, during the campaign.

See posts here, here, here and here. Riddell was seeking the Conservative nomination for Ottawa-South in an open nomination process, but then the party brass recruited sponsorship whistleblower Alan Cutler and wanted him to run there. What to do with Riddell? He was pressured to step aside, finally agreeing to bow out if the party agreed to pay the expenses he incurred winning the nomination.* The party brass agreed, Riddell bowed-out, Cutler ran and lost to Liberal David McGuinty.

An interesting aside on Cutler. Apparently the Conservatives also promised him compensation before he agreed to run for them if they won the election. Except this compensation would have come from the taxpayers. The Conservatives later denied that one too.

Anyway, after the election the party started to balk on paying Riddell and he went public with their little arrangement. At that point the CPC said Riddell was supposed to keep the shady arrangement secret; he violated that by going public. Riddell sued, the Conservatives kicked him out of the party, fought the case, and last week they lost. An arbitrator will come up with the exact amount the Conservatives owe Riddell, who still has lawsuits outstanding against Steve Harper and CPC president Don Plett for defamation.

CTV’s Dave Akin has lots of analysis on the ruling over at his blog, including links to the court ruling if you want the nitty gritty. It is truly a sorrid mess of politics at its worse that proves once again beyond a doubt that all the Conservative chest-thumping about accountability and cleaning up politics was a big load of crap.

Akin also hits on the larger issue here, if only briefly and rather belatedly. That’s the fact that Conservative Party officials admitted during the case that they had indeed made a deal with Riddell. That wasn’t at issue. The CPC contended by going public Riddell had invalidated the deal, that’s what the court case was about; the judge said they still had to pay.

Why is that important? Because as Akin notes, and as I blogged way back in September, during the election campaign Stephen Harper was asked point blank if there was a compensation deal with Ridell, and he flatly denied it:

"The party does not have an agreement to pay Mr. Riddell these expenses, and Mr. Riddell has not been paid anything to date," he said, explaining that the party's national council had decided Riddell was not an "acceptable'' candidate.

Except they did, Stephen. Your party didn’t even dispute that before the courts. So, it would seem appropriate to revisit your answer to that question during the election campaign, when you were going before the people of Canada and asking them for a mandate, promising them a new, clean, responsible, accountable government. Were you bring straight with us Stephen?

As I blogged back in September, I see two explanations here:

1) Harper knew there was a deal and also knew that admitting it would seriously torpedo his plan to campaign on being a new clean and ethical government, just as the election was getting underway, so he lied to the media and the Canadian people, or

2) Harper was kept in the dark about the deal and therefore told the truth as he knew it, which means his staffers and/or party executives hid this damaging information from him and set him up to the microphones in December to unknowingly lie to the Canadian people.

Either possibility is quite serious. Either Harper blatantly lied to the Canadian people to win an election, or members of the CPC campaign team/inner circle lied to their leader and made him look a liar and a fool.

No reporter has seen fit to dig into this yet or question Harper on the discrepancy between his answer and, well, reality, even though this contradiction has been obvious for some time. I would think that the possibility the Prime Minister of Canada may have, at best, deliberately mislead the people of Canada to help win his election would be worthy of some investigation. Maybe it’s just me.

*Edited because I was mistaken in saying Riddell had won the nomination in 2005. He hadn't yet, he was seeking it and was pushed aside for Cutler, with the agreement to cover his expenses.

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