What are the Mounties doing .. will they be the straw that breaks the Liberals’ back?

Jan 2nd, 2006 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

One question raised by the new and surprising income-trust agonies of the “Team Martin” Liberals concerns the role of the RCMP in politics.

Press sources have noted that it is highly unusual for the Mounties to announce a “criminal investigation into the possibility that Ottawa’s plans for income trusts were leaked,” at such a strategic point in a federal election campaign. And it’s hard not to wonder a little about the exact motivations.

Because what they have done is so unusual, some say, the Mounties must be onto something. Yet the RCMP itself has “emphasized that there is no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity'” by Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale “or anybody else.” Some stock-market gurus in the Toronto financial district think the Mounties are on a “wild goose chase.” And the RCMP has also just admitted it was “in error” in its mishandling of a recent 911 emergency call in Alberta. So it’s not as if the organization is infallible in everything it does.

Will the surprising new “trustscam,” in any case, have real political legs in January 2006? Is it a suddenly ominous sign of impending Liberal doom? Or does it just show how the down-and-dirty second half of the Canadian election campaign has now begun?

The “one-month review … prompted by allegations from NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis”

Extreme left-wing partisans could be tempted to jump to the conclusion that police forces of all sorts tend to be right-wing and conservative in democratic politics these days. In some parts of the country some voters remember, e.g., that former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino was once talked of as a potential Conservative candidate in Ontario provincial politics.

It is also true, however, that ex-Toronto-chief Fantino was appointed to his current job as head of emergency management for Ontario by a Liberal provincial government. And according to the press, the RCMP’s decision to investigate the possibility that Ottawa’s plans for income trusts were leaked was taken after a “one-month review … prompted by allegations from NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis.”

It is true as well that both opposition-party Conservatives on the right and New Democrats on the left have called on Ralph Goodale to resign as finance minister while the RCMP conducts its investigation. And NDP leader Jack Layton has seemed at least as aggressive as Conservative leader Stephen Harper. So if what John Ibbitson at the Globe and Mail has proposed calling “trustscam” actually is part of some plot hatched by Canada’s own version of the continental right-wing conspiracy, someone probably ought to tell Jack Layton.

Someone should tell NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis too. At least some stock-market gurus seem to be suggesting that the biggest problem she pointed to in the first place was her own unfamiliarity with just how financial markets work. The rest of us, whose experience in such matters is usually not all that extensive either, can probably not judge the matter too exactly. But the key point about Ms. Wasylycia-Leis’s role in the story is no doubt that if the Mounties’ investigation announcement really is a right-wing plot, it has been quite effectively disguised.

Regional variations over whether Ralph Goodale should resign in the latest polling data …

At the same time, an almost instant opinion poll on the question of whether Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale should resign as finance minister, while the RCMP conducts its investigation, has shown provocative regional variations among the present geographically as well as ideologically and otherwise diverse people of Canada.

A “Decima Research survey of 3,820 … suggested that 45 per cent of Canadians believed Mr. Goodale should resign, compared with 38 per cent who thought he should stay on … The poll also indicated that a majority of respondents in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec believed he should resign, while most people in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario thought he should continue as finance minister … Voters in Atlantic Canada were essentially split according to the poll, which was provided to The Canadian Press.”

The expert inside-Ottawa approach to the question here looks to historical precedents. And: “The Liberals said they could find no precedent of finance ministers in Canada stepping down over allegations against them. They pointed to Walter Gordon in 1963, Marc Lalonde in 1983 and Michael Wilson in 1989 as examples of federal finance ministers who stayed in their posts despite facing allegations of various kinds.”

On the other hand: “The Conservatives pointed to former federal immigration minister Judy Sgro, and Ontario’s Greg Sorbara and Rob Samson and British Columbia’s John van Dongen as provincial ministers who stepped aside during investigations involving either themselves or their departments.” Meanwhile: “The New Democratic Party said the Liberals have a double standard’ because they asked Conservative finance minister Michael Wilson to step down in 1989 after a budget leak. He did not. Mr. Martin’s judgment is now in question,’ NDP MP Libby Davies said at a news conference in Vancouver.”

So will it have legs … or does “trustscam” just show how the down-and-dirty second half of the campaign has now begun?

Historical precedents about just when cabinet ministers ought to resign in Canada’s version of parliamentary democracy may finally only impress political scientists, of one sort or another. What the Decima Research survey more broadly suggests is that “trustscam” has its greatest popular resonance in parts of the country where antagonism towards whatever there may really be of anglophone central Canadian financial dominance in Canada today is strongest.

At the same time again, another “SES/CPAC poll of 1,200 Canadian voters” has suggested that “news of a police probe into the possible leak of new Canadian tax rules has cut support for the ruling Liberals to 35 percent … and they are now statistically tied’ with the opposition Conservatives.” If subsequent polls by others over the next several days confirm this kind of trend, then it could be that John Ibbitson’s surprising “trustscam” will have actually started to move the key ballot-question numbers and break the so-called “stasis” of the electorate in the new post-holiday phase of the current campaign. (And by Monday, January 2, at least one poll was putting the Conservatives ahead.)

Especially if anything of this sort does happen, there could be still more reason to wonder a little about the ultimate propriety of the Mounties’ decision to announce their investigation at such a strategic point in the campaign. And this seems especially the case in light of an RCMP spokesman’s rather bemusing explanation that “police had enough information to expand their preliminary examination to a criminal investigation, but that does not mean there is any evidence of criminal activity … The Mounties say the investigation could take months, which would mean there would be no resolution when Canadians go to the polls on Jan. 23.”

If the Mounties are going to take it upon themselves to intervene in federal politics in quite this kind of unusually provocative and not altogether understandable way, some voters may be tempted to think that the people of Canada finally ought to be electing the senior management of the RCMP too. However you look at it yourself, it all does seem to make a strange enough beginning to the second and more deadly serious phase of the current Canadian federal election – now that the New Year of 2006 is actually here.

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