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 theyâ€™re being served and all the good things â€” or bad things, if youâ€™re an opposition MP â€” 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 â€” whether it will do them any good is another matter â€” but not on the taxpayerâ€™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 â€” â€œHeâ€™s in way over his head,â€ for example â€” and encircled by what looks like a comet trail of pixie dust sprinkled by Walt Disneyâ€™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 Toriesâ€™ 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 MPsâ€™ expenditures. He says itâ€™s â€œentirely appropriateâ€ for the Tories to inform Canadians in this way about Trudeauâ€™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 â€œinformationâ€ â€” farm subsidy programs, home renovation credits, etc. â€” to constituents. Yet they have become a vehicle for partisan propaganda.
Parliament should abolish politiciansâ€™ bulk mailing privileges. Between the serial abuse of the privilege by MPs and the fact we live in an era of ubiquitous digital communication, there is no longer a justifiable reason for taxpayers to be getting flyers and other assorted political epistles at their own expense.
Where even 10 years ago it was reasonable to have taxpayers pay the cost of receiving mailed information about the doings of their elected representative and the latest business of the House of Commons, in the digital age it is a redundant waste of money and resources. Letâ€™s be honest: How many Canadians spend any time at all reading the flyers their MPs, provincial representatives and municipal councillors print up and send to them at taxpayer expense? The vast majority of the flyers end up in the recycling bin in mint condition.
To add insult to injury, MPs in particular have made a sport of abusing their bulk mailing privileges. This week, Conservative Party MPs have been asked by party officials to send their constituents a flyer that is nothing more than an attack ad targeting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. It is scandalous, but it is only the latest such outrage.
Three years ago, after MPs had begun flooding their opponentsâ€™ ridings with partisan flyers, they agreed to a ceasefire: MPs would only mail flyers to their own constituents. This was quickly undone, however, when MPs began using their so-called â€œfrankingâ€ privilege â€“ the right to send a letter anywhere in Canada at no cost in an envelope bearing the MP’s name â€“ to carpet bomb targeted opponentsâ€™ ridings with yet more partisan attacks, this time on letterhead.
It is an entirely uncomplicated fact that taxpayers should never bear the cost of printing and receiving partisan mailings. Yet MPs continue to spout utter nonsense in their efforts to muddy the crystal-clear waters of common sense. â€œItâ€™s entirely appropriate for Canadians to be informed about those contrasting aspects of leadership they have available,â€ Government House Leader Peter Van Loan argued in defence of the bulk-mailing of the Trudeau attack ads, and thereby missed the point. It is within the current rules, perhaps. But playing up the strengths of a party leader at the expense of a rival is not an appropriate use of public money â€“ especially not in a democratic country that purports to make a distinction between the wellbeing of any one political party and the general wellbeing of the taxpayer.
A classless act by Government House leader Peter Van Loan. Itâ€™s not the first time this has happened.
Back in November, both she and a representative from the Bloc Quebecois were prevented from delivering Remembrance Day statements on two separate occasions.
And this folks is what drives me crazy about the Conservative Party. Itâ€™s not the big issues. I support changes to OAS and an austerity budget but itâ€™s these petty and classless things that keep me from voting for them federally. They have a majority but canâ€™t seem to grasp that politics is not a continual campaign. There can be time to allow the leader of Green Party to speak on Vaclav Havel and not risk losing control of their agenda yet no one in the PMO can seem to grasp that fact.
The Blackberry Roundtable with Kady Oâ€™Malley and Scott Reid has some interesting thoughts on the Conservative Party push polling the Irwin Cotlerâ€™s riding with the suggestion he had resigned.
AP: When Montreal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler heard that someone was making phone calls to his constituents suggesting that Cotler had resigned and that there would soon be a byelection in the riding, the Conservatives didnâ€™t deny that it was their doing. Instead they sent Peter Van Loan to chum the waters: First he noted that since rumours were always swirling about Cotlerâ€™s possible resignation, it was incumbent upon the Tories to bring the matter up with his constituents. Besides, he added, itâ€™s a matter of free speech, which even Sir John A. Macdonald understood â€œto be part of normal discourse.â€ n politics as in sports, the best defence is a relentless offence, but surely sportsmanship is still a guiding moral code in both. Is this normal, or has Canadian politics become the MMA of public life?
SR: Letâ€™s start by saying the obvious: This is unprecedented. That matters because every time someone lowers the watermark for acceptable political behaviour, the reflex response is â€œwell, everyoneâ€™s doing it.â€ Actually thatâ€™s not so. Ladies and gentlemen, please pause a moment as we reach a new low. Not to worry if you missed it. Weâ€™ll be arriving upon another before long. So everyone isnâ€™t doing it. But â€” and this should really alarm us â€” if we donâ€™t blow the whistle, scream â€œstopâ€ or otherwise halt the descent into pure partisan amorality, everyone will be doing it. Because political parties are rewarded for one thing and one thing only: winning. So if something isnâ€™t declared off-limits, the lesson everyone else learns is to imitate. Itâ€™s a brand of Darwinistic Political Ethics â€” the crown falls to he who shows the least shame. The Conservative response on this is risible. They claim theyâ€™re merely ID-ing their vote. Right. By systematically spreading a falsehood about a sitting MP. Meanwhile, Irwin Cotler is submitting amendments to the crime bill that the government is humiliated into acknowledging it should embrace. Except that â€” presumably too distracted from terrorizing its political opponents three and a half years before the next election â€” they shut down the committee process and now are forced to submit his changes in the Senate. The contrast between Irwin and his opponents could not be more clear. This whole thing is a freaking disgrace.
KOâ€™M: Like all the best/worst slo-mo political car crashes, watching this story unfold over the last few weeks has been equal parts fascinating and horrifying. With the exception of the ministers and MPs sent up to defend their partyâ€™s tactics in the Commons, I truly believe youâ€™d be hard-pressed to find any MPs, in any party, who arenâ€™t at least a little bit uncomfortable with this tactic, despite the fact that it really is, for all intents and purposes, the natural next step in the permanent campaign. After all, with the majority having removed the conveniently constant threat of an Unnecessary and Expensive Electionâ„¢, the Conservative party needs something to keep itself occupied. This, at least, is something â€” so why not do this? Well, other than that it may very well hobble their efforts to actually win the very-much-still-occupied seat in question, as this is the sort of tactic that goes over like gangbusters in the war room, only to plummet like a titanium zeppelin among normal human beings, including, very possibly, the good folk of Mount Royal.
SR: Well if there are government MPs who feel uncomfortable theyâ€™re doing a helluva job of concealing their objections. John Williamson and Peter Van Loan have mounted arguments in defence of this practice that are so weak they defy satire. This may be the first time in his life that itâ€™s actually difficult to make fun of PVL.
KOâ€™M: This is, it seems, another example of how the government â€” or, in this case, the governing party â€” just canâ€™t seem to get its head around the notion that it has a majority. It can relax, kick back, maybe drop the constant plotting and scheming and enjoy the break, although the very notion of doing so would seem to be incomprehensible to the permanent campaigners â€” a good number of whom, it seems, are still hanging around The Centre.
SR: Pundits keep making this point: Harper has his majority. He can afford to lay down his sword and be a bit gracious. But they miss a fundamental and simple insight. He doesnâ€™t want to.
AP: If we really are in a race to the bottom, politically, how do we stop it? When youâ€™re in an arms race, no amount of moralizing about the evils of WMDs is going to stop the up-gunning of the combatants. So we need some sort of arms-limitation treaty to force everyone to turn their nukes into noodles. Are there institutional constraints or legal fixes we can implement to improve the situation?
KOâ€™M: Sure: Parliament could address this particular tactic by making it an offence to make false or misleading claims about byelections, or, more generally, amend the Elections Act to impose spending limits outside the writ. Iâ€™ll just be over here holding my breath.
SR: Get real people! You donâ€™t stop it. Surely the lesson of modern life is that standards get progressively lowered, not raised. Weâ€™ll see some changes when Harper is eventually replaced because ill-motivated character will always be an argument against his tenure. Consequently, a new government will have to show some symbolic differences. There may also be a change in political philosophies when people inevitably defeat the Rovian school. But in the main, the cultural degradation will remain. Call me a pessimist. Cuz Iâ€™m a pessimist.