Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Keep your eyes on the ball

Babble on.

Today's newspapers are full to the brim with Jean Chretien's theatrical testimony at the Gomery inquiry yesterday, and rightly so. Not only is this story worth keeping on the front pages, but Chretien and his unholy cabal of back-room arm-twisters and professional dissemblers are masters of political spin, and yesterday's choreographed appearance was a tour-de-force in that respect. As John Ibbitson said in the Globe & Mail today, this "is why we miss him so, and why we're so glad he's gone." Too true.

A cursory spin around the Canadian blogosphere looking for commentary on this subject earlier today was quite frankly disappointing.

Treehugger pushes the 'context' argument as hard as I've seen him push anything. It's an uncharacteristically poor effort, as this entire line of reasoning misses the point.
Calgary Grit repeats all the Chretienite talking points, including the 'Liberals are the only federalists in Quebec' excuse.
Jay Currie takes aim at that particular argument, as does Damian Penny. Personally, I think their points of attack play right into the Chretienites' hands - but more on that later.
Peter Rempel is disgusted with Chretien, and finds nothing redemptive in his testimony whatsoever.
The Hack, being an admitted political creature, is amused by the theatrics, but only reminds us at the very end of his piece: "Just don't forget the rest of the testimony and why we're here in the first place."
Stephen Taylor echoes that sentiment, nodding to Liberal mastery of political wet-work.
Don at All things Canadian... continues to focus on the behind-the-scenes efforts to smear Gomery, and has both a trolling megalomaniac and Paul Wells join in on the conversation - neither of whom, strangely enough, contribute much insight.
The various contributors to PolSpy seem to be all over the map on this.
Andrew, as usual, provides a couple of views, and insightfully points out that "Liberal supporters are latching on to today's bravado from Jean's like a lifeline - they've been so beat up lately that they will cling to any glimmer of hope" without really addressing why Chretien's testimony is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Bob Tarantino and Greg Staples are the only bloggers I've read who tap into the core of this mess: whether you agree or disagree with the idea of a sponsorship program to combat Quebec separatism, this particular program was spectacularly mismanaged to huge partisan benefit.

Don't get me wrong: Currie and Penny can make perfectly lucid arguments against the wisdom of using federal tax dollars to fight a PR war in post-referendum Quebec. But then Chretien's Colonel KLAPP rebuttal comes into play. The man in the hot-seat makes the best decision he can with the information available to him at the time; if it's the wrong decision, then so be it. The Monday-morning quarterbacks look petulant, and 'wrong' isn't on the same ethical plane as 'corrupt'. Besides, 20/20 hindsight has the disadvantage of missing all the other what-if possibilities - like what-if the feds hadn't pushed a Canada-brand across Quebec for all those years?

This line of argument will always remain inconclusive, because we can't play the game all over again a different way to see if things would have turned out better or worse. And inconclusive means a win for Chretien on this file.

That's why I think Gomery's "small-town cheap" comment was a double-whammy. Not only did he give the Chretienites a blunt object with which to beat his judicial impartiality, but he framed the issue as a 'golf-balls: good or bad' question. When JC pulled golf balls from a couple of different holders of the title "Most Powerful Human On Earth" out of his briefcase, that question was effectively answered.

The real issue should have been why the hell it costs Canadian taxpayers over $83 to get a single golf ball with a maple leaf and Chretien's name on it. Because the patriotic necessity of fighting Quebec separatism doesn't answer that question. The only plausible answer to that question is that the Liberals were either incompetent or corrupt.

To be clear: once the decision has been made that a PR campaign will be waged in defence of the country, I don't care if Liberal-friendly ad agencies get the contracts. Honest to heaven, I don't. The idea that all the best agencies in Quebec are either separatist or Liberal/federalist doesn't surprise me, and the decision to use only federalist/Liberal ones doesn't trouble me.

But even if you concede those points, that doesn't mean the governing Liberals were free to overpay for services rendered, or - more incredibly - were free to overpay specifically so contracted firms could funnel tax dollars into Liberal party coffers. Corrupt or incompetent, take your pick.

No matter how many decoys the Chretienistas throw out into the public forum, there remain a number of core defects to AdScam. That's where the focus should remain. To do otherwise plays to the one Liberal suit that remains strong: misleading, unethical political spin.

Babble off.

Update: Timmy the G breaks from leftist ranks and *gasp* agrees with Stephen Harper. Scandalous!

Your political theatrical skills are impressive Jean, but at the end of the day, the sponsorship program accomplished exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do. That's your legacy.


Another update: Matt Fenwick hits the ball out of the park.

But back to Bob's piece, post-segue. He identifies essentially four questions, which the Liberals are indeed trying to intertwine:
1) Was the sponsorship program a good idea?
2) Does the Gomery inquiry cost too much?
3) Is Gomery biased?
4) Was the execution of the sponsorship program somewhere between a nasty mess and a criminal enterprise, where Liberals and their friends enriched party and corporate coffers with taxpayers' money?

The thing is, it takes a clever person like Bob to articulate that the answer to #4 is not at all related to the answers of #1/2/3, but just about anyone can recognize it.

And further to basic intuition: is there much of the public, when hearing Chretien, Pelletier, Kinsella, et al harp on Questions 1/2/3 - in the context of an inquiry struck to answer #4 - who dismiss the self-interest involved?


At 4:39 p.m., Blogger Greg Staples said...

Thanks for the kind words.

At 5:50 p.m., Blogger calgarygrit said...

Yeah, the sponsorship program may not have turned out great. Maybe it was a bad idea. But it was part of a larger national unity strategy: Clarity Act, distinct society, job training to the provinces, Stephane Dion, etc. And every other aspect of that unity strategy has worked brilliantly.

At 6:03 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

CG, go read Matt Fenwick's post on this (updated at the bottom of my post). You're missing the point: whether or not the sponsorship program was good policy, it was poorly, and quite possibly criminally done.

At 6:04 p.m., Blogger The Hack said...

Worked out brillantly?

How so? Sounds like we're on the cusp of a government change in Quebec next year and I can tell you, it's not going to be Mario's ADQ getting elected.

I'll give the Liberals credit on some unity fronts (Dion's handling of Clarity for example - though there's a lot of right positions in it too), but don't fool yourselves into thinking that you slayed the seperatism beast.

At 6:14 p.m., Blogger Timmy the G said...

But that's the worst part of the sponsorship scandal, Hack. The Bloc was on the ropes and the Liberals looked poised to take damn near all 75 seats in Quebec until the story broke. All the other hard work seemed for nothing thanks to this massive screw-up.

At 6:36 p.m., Blogger PR said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6:37 p.m., Blogger PR said...

I agree with the Hack: The Liberals should be given some credit for their national unity strategy. For example: Dion brilliantly ripped off the clarity act from Stephen Harper's 20/20 unity plan.

At 11:15 p.m., Blogger Temujin said...

Bob at Canadian Comment says it well here:

And that fine Temujin fellow has a little sumpin' sumpin' to say as well on his blog...

At 11:47 p.m., Blogger Timmy the G said...

"Bob Tarantino and Greg Staples are the only bloggers I've read who tap into the core of this mess: whether you agree or disagree with the idea of a sponsorship program to combat Quebec separatism, this particular program was spectacularly mismanaged to huge partisan benefit."

Actually, Damian, there was huge partisan benefit from the sponsorship scandal, but it was on the part of the Bloquites and the Conservatives. With the exception of a couple of free golf balls for Jean and Warren, the Liberals didn't get anyhting positive out of this scandal.They're still licking their wounds.

At 4:51 a.m., Blogger jc said...

Ta for the link...

The Liberals are spinning hard because they know that, on the merits, a decades worth of payoffs to old friends in Quebec reeks.

Matt has it straight, golf balls, national Unity, the Chretien belief that he somewhow had a manadate to go to "war" on the federalist's behalf, are all distractions.

The happy news is that Gomery is not a hack or a columnist or John Q. Public, he's a judge and he has been dealing with this sort of idiocy in his Courtroom for years. Judges are not infalible but they are damn good at cutting to the chase.

Chretien's golf balls will not have fooled the Judge. And I rather suspect that Martin, tomorrow, is going to roast Chretien as having run this file from his back pocket. (Which is the only way the Montreal don could possibly have been the feckless minister in charge.)

At 9:54 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Come now, Timmy, the Liberals seem to have received a pile of funding from ad agencies that *wink* coincidentally received contracts under the sponsorship program. You can't say they weren't the initial and - dare I say it? - intended beneficiaries of taxpayers' largesse. The political windfall for the CPC and BQ/PQ is an unintended consequence - a backfire.

At 3:57 p.m., Blogger NemoDatQuod said...

Everyone (EXCEPT Judge Gomery I suspect)has missed a major point about the golf balls.
When Gomery called it 'small town cheap' it wasn't about having golf balls with Cretin's name on them.
It was that taxpayers money paid for those balls.
None of the balls pulled out by Cretin were paid for with taxpayer money. Not the law firm in Montreal. Not the ones with Bush 41 or Bush 43 on them.
Among other things, if they had been official gifts, Cretin would have had to give them to Canada. And if they had been official gifts they likely would not have had a Presidential signature..maybe the seal.
I strongly suspect that those little giveaways are paid for by the Republican or Democratic party, *for* the President, to avoid the use of taxpayer money.

But Cretin stole them from you and $83 freaking bucks per ball...Them's balls all right: not brass, stainless steel and chrome plated.


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