Tag Archives: Ottawa Citizen

Partisan mail-outs cross the line

Even the Ottawa Citizen thinks these bulk mailers by the Conservatives are out of line

Tories attacking Liberals is par for the course in Canadian politics. The style with which they stage these attacks is, of course, debatable. What is not up for debate should be MPs using their print budgets at the expense of taxpayers for partisan attacks.

According to documents made available by the Liberal party, the Tories plan to spend thousands on taxpayer-supported mailings to inform Canadians of the purported inadequacies of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Traditionally, these mail-outs are intended to update constituents on the doings of the House of Commons. Not surprisingly, MPs often use them to lecture riding residents on how well they’re being served and all the good things — or bad things, if you’re an opposition MP — the government is doing.

The Tories, however, appear intent on crossing the ethical divide with mail-outs that are nothing more than an extension of their attack ad campaign against the new Liberal leader. They should not. They can spend as much as they want to discredit Trudeau — whether it will do them any good is another matter — but not on the taxpayer’s dime.

The flyers, which were presented to the Conservative caucus in mid-April and are to be distributed June 1, show pictures of Trudeau with a moustache and jacket over his shoulder against a backdrop of quotes — “He’s in way over his head,” for example — and encircled by what looks like a comet trail of pixie dust sprinkled by Walt Disney’s wand-waving fairy. Another part of the mail-out suggests the Liberal leader is naive on such issues as Quebec separatism, tax credits for families and the economy.

The cost of mailing these attacks for 166 Conservative MPs comes in at about $29,000, but throw in the full price of printing and distribution and, according to the Liberals, it will be more than $220,000. The money will come out of the Tories’ House of Commons budget. In other words, taxpayers will pay.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan defends the expenditure, saying it is within rules approved by Parliament and the all-party Board of Internal Economy that oversees MPs’ expenditures. He says it’s “entirely appropriate” for the Tories to inform Canadians in this way about Trudeau’s leadership qualities (or lack thereof).

What a specious justification for ripping off taxpayers. Householders were intended to provide MPs with a way to communicate “information” — farm subsidy programs, home renovation credits, etc. — to constituents. Yet they have become a vehicle for partisan propaganda.

The gloves are off

Dan Gardner in the Ottawa Citizen on the bare knuckle politicking that is going on now.

Readers will remember that the original "Enemies List" was compiled by Richard Milhous Nixon, a lifelong politician whose defining qualities were tactical ruthlessness and a burning sense of resentment for "eastern elites." Sound familiar?

I don’t buy the argument that Stephen Harper is successfully moulding Canada in his own image. But the Conservative party? Oh yes. No previous generation of Conservatives behaved like Harper and Company. Just try to imagine any other Conservative prime minister defending legislation on the floor of the House of Commons by smearing a Liberal MP’s father-in-law.

The change isn’t solely Stephen Harper’s doing, of course. It’s also the product of American influence.

The prime minister and the people around him have all followed American politics their entire lives, they all have close connections with American politicos, and many have actively participated in American politics. In the American system, the idea of political neutrality scarcely exists. Senior civil servants are political appointees. Judges are identified as Republicans and Democrats and the Supreme Court routinely splits along political lines when ruling on politically contentious cases. There is no Governor General or Queen above politics -nothing is above politics. Indeed, the closest thing to neutrality in American politics is "bipartisanship," which is quite a different creature.

It’s also important that the Harper Conservatives are connected to, and influenced by, the American conservative movement. As Rick Perlstein showed so brilliantly in Nixonland, that movement was shaped in important ways less by the sunny nature of Ronald Reagan than the dark insecurities of Richard Nixon. Conservatives are outsiders. They have to fight dirty because power lies with a ruthless and entrenched elite. It’s civil war. And it never ends: Even in the middle of the Bush years, when Republicans controlled the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court, conservatives sincerely saw themselves as hard-pressed and persecuted insurgents.

Just like the underdogs of the PMO.