Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ahead of the Eight Ball

Just when we thought things couldn't get lower in Ottawa, CBC News breaks the story of the PMO's special fund; an ultra-secret cash reserve that few people knew about. The covert existence of such a fund is bad enough, but the cash trail for it is where things really start to get sticky.

The fund comes from money raised by the party; which means that taxpayer money exists in the kitty. For those confused about that, keep in mind that political donations are subsidized by generous tax credits and money from the soon to be defunct vote subsidy would be part of the money going into this fund. Ergo, and no avoiding it, taxpayer money exists in this fund.

Things get worse when you find out that the sole signer for this account is the PM's Chief of Staff; in this case, the former Nigel Wright. That alone raises more questions about Wright's role in the Duffy repayment; especially if the fund was an option as a golden carrot to repay Wright after the fact. Conservatives have already taken to denying that the fund was used to pay Duffy's expenses; but have  hemmed and hawed on whether the fund could have been used to repay Wright after the heat died down. 

The key factor here is to make sure that Canadians don't have the wool pulled over their eyes. While the money came from donations to the Conservative Party, taxpayer money still enters the picture. As such, the opposition must hammer home the fact that the Conservatives have a million dollar fund with zero oversight that barely anyone knew existed; and that this fund is topped off by taxpayer dollars.

The Conservatives will downplay that fact, and the opposition cannot allow them to get away with it.

Many have pointed out that this fund may just be the tip of the iceberg. Since it exists in the PMO, and isn't used during elections (apparently) it doesn't exist under Elections Canada oversight. This is literally a fund that can be used at the discretion of the PMO without anyone knowing about it. And while there is something to be said for it being used for "expenses for the PM that should be covered by the party", we've already explained how this doesn't spare taxpayers completely from shouldering a bit of the financial burden.

And that brings us to another issue that has arisen in Ottawa that continues to damage what little reputation the Harper Government had left.

Two Conservative MPs have found themselves in another issue over elections expenses. Shelly Glover and James Bezan are fighting with Elections Canada over their issues receipts from the last election; with the elections watchdog saying that the two candidates incorrectly filed expenses that allowed them to say under the spending limit. 

Furthermore, House Speaker Andrew Scheer was informed of the failure of the two candidates to update their expenses after they missed a May 17th deadline. Elections Canada was seeking the barring of the two MPs from the House and their duties as a parliamentarian until the issue was resolved. 

Scheer sat on the letter, not revealing the issue to the House of Commons, and Conservative Party Lawyer and seemingly always speaking spokesman Arthur Hamilton chided Elections Canada for sending the letters in the first place. 

At this point, I don't know how much more mired the Conservative Party can become in scandals. Their seemingly never ending battles with Elections Canada; a court case which ruled beyond a shadow of a doubt that CIMS was the source of robocall targeting, though individuals involved remain unknown; and now the existence of secret funds and information being willfully withheld from the House of Commons.

What's next, will we find out that Stephen Harper does indeed eat babies? I'm pretty sure at this point even the furthest stretch of hyperbole wouldn't bat an eyelash for even the casual watcher of politics in our country.

I said it yesterday, and I will say it again, there is only one way to change the channel for the Conservatives (and even then it's a first step, not a cure) and that is a fundamental change in leadership and a distancing from being the 'Harper Conservatives'. But again, Harper is about Harper, and such a decision will never come from Harper or within the PMO.

The reaction to Brent Rathgerber's resignation from caucus has shown that even in Fortress Alberta, there are doubts about the direction the Conservative Party is spinning in. And when the fault lines are showing in the party base, one can't help but realize that the centre coalition Harper took from the Liberals is likely reeling away from the party as well.

And while I do delight in watching the Conservative Party twisting in the wind, and acknowledged yesterday that Harper staying on until the 2015 Election would be a boon to the opposition parties, one can't help but think about those who are pained to see their party at this point. Surely there must be those who want to see the path change, and whether they show up at this month's convention and force the issue remains to be seen.

But for those who do identify as Conservatives, they must realize that at this point the future of their party hinges on the next few months. This scandal is only going to get worse, if it can even get better at all, and how the rank and file members react is going to have a major bearing on the party moving forward.

With a party convention weeks away, the membership do have a chance to do the right thing (for their party, and even for the country) and tell Stephen Harper that it is time for a change. If they fail to do this, then the country will be more than happy to give Stephen and a majority of his party (ala PCs 1993) the order of the boot.

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