Wednesday, May 25, 2005

So be wary of who you accuse

The Globe & Mail's Jeffrey Simpson is more than a touch condescending today (Subscription wall workaround link here): Thank goodness that the House of Commons does not sit this week, because otherwise some of the right-wing punditocracy might not survive. A few of the pundits hyperventilated so severely last week that they came dangerously close to cardiac arrest over the Liberals' parliamentary survival. Another week of fulmination like the last one might just do in a couple of them. Yes, many of us were upset last week. I wonder if that might have had anything to do with the increasingly craven and shameless tactics Liberals used to maintain their fragile grip on power? But that doesn't matter, to equivocating hacks like Simpsons; it's all about how the right is too angry and excitable. (Discuss: is being painted as angry and excitable better, or worse, than being painted as dull policy wonks?) So desperate was their condition that they made a political hero of Gurmant Grewal. Who, you might reasonably ask? Mr. Grewal is, shall we say, nailed to the Conservatives' backbench. An MP from Surrey, B.C., he would have no more chance of ever being in a future Conservative cabinet than, say, the ghost of Lester Pearson. Oh, I get it! It's all about self-promotion. Grewal was just seeking attention, because, as we all know, he could never amount to anything, right? What with how he's, y'know, not white, and all Tories are (according to unimpeachable sources Joe Volpe and Hedy Fry) unapologetic fire-breathing Klan members? And yet from obscurity Mr. Grewal rose to heroic status for the right-wing pundits, because he did something profoundly unethical and deceitful in what they believe a noble cause -- the unearthing of further Liberal treachery and deceit. I have yet to understand how recording conversations that make criminal offers is in any way unethical. Is it unethical for police to gather evidence of criminal activity by use of wiretaps? Except that on its face, this case of Liberal treachery and deceit is at best unproven and, at worse, a crock. Instead, it would appear that Mr. Grewal has more than a little explaining to do. You breathtakingly obtuse little man. Given the events of the past few weeks on which the facts are completely known and agreed upon - the sudden decision to invade Sudan after David Kilgour made it one of his demands for voting with the budget, the Stronach debacle - the burden of evidence is not on the Conservatives to prove that what seems to have been an offer (if a circumspect and vaguely worded one), in fact, was. Now let's be clear: Liberal political deceit -- one arrow in a quiver of strategies for power -- has a long and dishonourable history than ran right up and through last week's parliamentary survival. The Liberals have always done whatever it takes to survive, including raids on the federal treasury that, were spending a jailing offence, would land a bunch of them behind bars with life sentences. Did you know that just before the vote the governing party was issuing press releases hailing more money for wharves and harbours on both coasts -- and even in Saskatchewan? This is practically a rubber-stamp version of every pretended-centrist columnist's recent apologiae: Sure, Liberals bad, but Conservatives are just so, like, y'know, scary. But this time, the Liberals stand accused of literally offering Mr. Grewal some slice of political patronage in exchange for his vote during last week's drama. And for his wife's vote, too, she being another Conservative MP. The evidence for this sensational charge comes from eight minutes of somewhat unintelligible tape from a recording of a conversation Mr. Grewal had with Tim Murphy, the prime minister's chief of staff. In that conversation, Mr. Murphy rules out a Senate seat or some other plum before the vote, but leaves open the possibility of future considerations should the Grewals abstain. If this is a smoking gun against Mr. Murphy, somebody forgot the trigger. Sweet Merciful Crap. How much clearer does it have to be? Do we have to wait until the surprise press conference where a defector is given a cabinet seat on live TV, the metaphorical smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud? Is that the only allowable standard of proof for suggesting that Liberals are willing to consider offering bribes of offices or appointments? Much stranger and rather chilling is what a member of Parliament was doing surreptitiously taping conversations with anybody. It's been reported that Mr. Grewal taped four hours of conversations with people, including senior Liberals, ostensibly as some kind of a personal sting operation to embarrass the Liberals. I've yet to hear acknowledgment from any Liberal defender of what their reaction would have been if no recordings had been made. I imagine Grewal's claims would have been dismissed as attention-seeking fantasies, like those of Inky Mark. That's what he was doing "surreptitiously taping conversations with anybody" - protecting himself and his credibility with that little thing called "evidence." He's only released eight minutes of these tapes -- minutes he and the Conservatives insist cast senior Liberals in a bad light. But what about the rest of the tapes? And what about the bizarre motives of an MP who walks around taping conversations, presumably including ones with ministers he had asked to see? If there's anything fishy about this business, the smell comes from the one with the tape recorder. "Bizarre?" How is it bizarre to attempt to expose the more-shameless-than-usual horse-trading that would otherwise go on behind closed doors? Grewal's motives are crystal-clear, unless you happen to be a Toronto-based pundit more concerned with optics than what seem to be the reasonably well-established facts: Liberals were offering bribes to any opposition member showing the slightest interest, even as a strategic feint. Yes, manners deteriorated rather sharply around Parliament in this minority situation. Things were said that went beyond the pale and the generally raucous behaviour undoubtedly turned off plenty of Canadians. But secret taping of conversations by an MP in order to damage the other side? Are there no limits? Mr. Grewal, and the Conservative leadership, should release all the tapes if they wish to use eight minutes of them for partisan purposes. Then everybody could judge whether indeed Mr. Grewal was on some kind of bizarre sting operation, organized either by himself, or with the encouragement of senior party members, or, as it equally plausible to an outsider, that he was indeed sniffing around, visiting cabinet ministers, opening up lines of communication for a switch, hoping to secure something then or later for himself and/or his wife. Sometimes the accuser has more questions to answer than the accused, and this looks like one of those times. Small-l liberal pundit trope #2: Always - always, always - blame the victim. It serves them right for making accusations of our Natural Governing Party. Mr. Grewal wasn't going anywhere in the Conservative Party. The Liberals are going to make a big push to do better in the Surrey ridings, with the mayor of Surrey having signed up to co-ordinate that effort. These two sentences would seem to contradict each other. If it's the case that Grewal is doomed never to occupy a cabinet post (short of crossing the floor to a Liberal government), why do the Liberals have to make a "big push" to do better? If he's that uninspiring an MP, surely the job wouldn't be quite so hard? I'm also not sure what municipal government political cooperation with the Liberals suggests in this case, other than a typical case of municipal government inappropriately taking sides at the federal level. Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli is a Liberal booster, but that doesn't mean our local Conservative MPs have done something in particular to offend him, other than belonging to the wrong party. The circumstantial evidence suggests Mr. Grewal has a few questions to answer. Maybe some of the answers are on those tapes. Failure to release them perhaps suggests someone with something to hide. How opportune that Simpson wrote such wild-eyed speculation on Conservative conspiracies and dirty tricks just as the tapes were released, then. For shame, Mr. Simpson.

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