George Carlin, on his immortal Class Clown album from the 1970s, talks of the experience of being an adolescent boy having to go to Confession, and hoping to get the “right Father”: one would give you ages’-worth of pennance (“the four First Fridays, the five First Saturdays, a trip to Lourdes…”) and the other would understand (“that’s okay, man, tres Santa-Marias“). Five minutes later, the penitent would be back on the street ready for another week of fun and frolic.
Apparently the Conservative Party of Canada was hoping to draw Carlin’s “Father Rivera” yesterday with their “selective confession” to various members of the media.
Let me be clear about my own views on election spending. I like the current restrictions on contributions. They equalise the playing field somewhat — even minor parties ought to be able to find supporters who can kick in sufficient funds to play. At the same time, I’d lift the lid on spending. If you can out-raise all the other parties, you ought to be able to use the money. Finally, other people who wish to communicate on issues ought to be able to do so, with limits on how much spending they can do. (So this is hardly libertarian enough to suit, let’s say, a Gerry Nichols, but much more free than the current Canada Elections Act and related regulations allow for. In particular, if I want to spend money to support campaign messaging on how to spoil your ballot, I ought to be able to do so.)
So if the Conservative Party spent $19 million rather than $18 million in the 2006 election I am not particularly chuffed at the thought. In-and-out, after all, is a time-honoured practice used by all of the parties at one time or another. (I can’t stand the supercilious types who pretend they’re simon-pure on this, although, mind you, there’s no shortage of them. Needless to say, the Conservatives weren’t spending monies redirected to their party from Federal Sponsorship and Advertising contracts, either: their supporters contributed that money to be used to win an election fair and square.
Still, yesterday’s shenanigans — selective invitations, a semi-secret location, ducking into the fire stairs to escape questions — sent all the wrong images to the country. “If you act guilty, you must have something to feel guilty about.”
So, thanks to this ineptitude and stupidity (and I always recall that Robert A. Heinlein once said a number of different things that add up to stupidity is the only natural capital crime — even if you get to escape natural retribution for the first offence, not learning from your errors certainly qualifies for the aphorism’s intent!) the Conservative Party may well have given itself a serious, perhaps fatal wound, something none of the imagined bluff and bluster seen in Parliament from the Liberals has been able to do.
If this is evidence of Stephen Harper’s superior tactical political skills — Gerry Nichols, in a web-only column for the Globe & Mail this morning certainly seemed to hint that these exist — then yesterday represents the moral equivalent of slipping in public on a cow pattie at the Stampede ready to be trampled by a raging bull or three.
Everything now turns on just how turned off we have all become. Will Canadians become incensed and feel retribution is required, or have they heard so much dung being flung in the past few years that this gets chalked up as “just another gros enmerdement“? If it’s the second, the Harper Government gets its equivalent of Father Rivera’s Three Hail Marys and it’s back on the street ready to fight for the right to continue to govern, perhaps even with a majority. Or, if we get angry, does this mean we get to experience Stéphane Dion’s sterling leadership qualities?
For, in Canadians’ response, that is also part of the equation. Dumping the Liberals in 2006 wasn’t a matter of “paying any price” for a change: there were many who may not have liked what Harper’s positions were, but accepted that he had proven, in Opposition and in bringing his party together, that he was viable if given Government. Dumping the Conservatives in 2008 (or 2009) doesn’t come with quite so much surety.
It will be dreadfully noisy for the next few days. It might even cause the Opposition parties to suffer a collective spinal injection rather than spinal tap, and we’d be off to settle the matter in an election. Or this will be an on-going gut-rumble in Question Period until the summer recess, at which point quiet will resume.
I suspect the Canadian people are turned off, tuned out and hoping for quiet. We shall see what happens.