Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Erg. This is going to sting, by tomorrow's news cycle: The Conservative Party was not aware that their candidate in the B.C. riding of British Columbia Southern Interior is due to go on trial next month on smuggling charges, and if convicted, he could end up in jail. [...] In July 2004, Zeisman was crossing into British Columbia from the United States, when Canada Customs charged him with attempting to smuggle in a Mercedes-Benz vehicle and 112 containers of alcohol. Zeisman is also accused of lying to Canada Customs about the incident. Zeisman did not explain to CTV News why he didn't tell his own party about the charges, and blamed someone in government for leaking the information. [...] The government knew about the charges, but the Conservative Party admits it didn't check his background with his former employer. Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper, who signed Zeisman's nomination papers, says he relies on others for such checking. "There is a screening process," Harper said. "My understanding is that it is supposed to look into criminal backgrounds and obviously rely on candidates to be forthcoming with information as well." At best, this lets the Liberals point and say "See, they're no better than us;" that'd still be an advantage at the moment. At worst, this has the potential to sink the whole integrity-competence-wholesomeness trifecta the Tory campaign has managed to establish so far. Zeisman isn't an incumbent, but he is running in a Conservative riding; Jim Gouk won British Columbia Southern Interior by a very slim 680-vote margin last time around. That would make it a targeted riding, and one that it would really hurt to lose. However, that's beside the point: it may be a lost cause now anyway, with this revelation. I doubt it'll happen, but I'd like to see Stephen Harper set an example, and publicly cede the riding. I mean, seriously, an immediate withdrawal, with loud denunciation of Zeisman's ethical lapse. Think about it: this is a teachable moment. If, absent this problematic candidate, the numbers were to stay as good as they are right now, a single seat in BC may not make the difference. Conversely, I suspect holding on to a dead weight has a reasonable chance of collapsing that delicious lead in the national polls. Unless Zeisman has compelling, incontrovertible evidence of his innocence to display to the voters, he's a liability at this point. If the seat were to go NDP, would that be terrible? Is it not better to sacrifice a pawn - and make a none-too-subtle point about what a Tory government would do about shady erstwhile associates - rather than throw the whole damn game? This is the first real challenge of the Conservative campaign so far; up until this point, it's mostly been fun and games while watching the Martinites either lie low, or visibly implode. I hope the key figures in the war room make the right decision, and do it soon. They haven't so far: The Conservatives say despite just finding out about the charges, they will stand by their man and won't pull him out of the race. But they do, indeed, have about eight hours to fix things. Fingers crossed. (Caveat Lector, of course. I figured that this past weekend's headlines speculating on a majority would be the first painful stumble of the campaign, and look how that sunk without a trace. Failing swift, decisive action on the Zeisman front from the party machine, I hope this is lost in the swirl of the prevailing Throw-the-Bums-Out mood in the electorate.) UPDATE, 01/11/06: Good enough, I suppose. It's a shame it took until midmorning to make the decision, though.