Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Ballsy Performance

Wow. People have underestimated Jean Chretien his entire career. His success has been written off to weak opposition. But, love him or hate him, everyone who watched him today saw why he’s one of the most successful politicians in Canada’s history. Regardless of what you think of the guy, it’s impossible not to have been impressed with his performance today.

Right from the opening statement, he set the tone. THIS is how the scandal should have been handled in the first place. One year ago when Sheila Fraser dropped the bombshell, Martin panicked and changed his story every day. First, it was "rogue beaurocrats". Then there was "political direction". He claimed he was "out of the loop" on Quebec but vowed to "get to the bottom of it". Then the Mad as Hell tour started with Martin going across the country with a clear message:

"THIS IS THE WORST SCANDAL EVER!!! LIBERALS ARE TERRIBLE!!!! I'M MAD AS HELL!!!! DON'T VOTE FOR LIBERALS!!!!!!!!!"

Contrast that to Jean Chretien's defense today. First of all, he admitted that mistakes were made. There's no hiding from that. This was a huge waste of government dollars and taxpayers have a right to be annoyed. But context was given for the program. Remember, this Prime Minister was accused relentlessly (somewhat unfairly) of being too passive during the 1995 Referendum so he had to do something. Maybe it wasn't the most brilliant idea and had flaws, but in 1995 and 1996 the threat of separation was very real. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t remember the power Lucien Bouchard held over Quebeckers. And that's why this program was set up. Chretien also offered up the very reasonable explanation as to why "Liberal-friendly" firms got contracts: The contract is either going to a Liberal or a Separatist firm. If you're promoting national unity, you don't give the contract to a separatist firm. Well, duh. There aren’t a lot of NDP-friendly firms in Quebec.

And then there were the golf balls. Sheer brilliance. I won’t say much about that because every paper in the country will lead with it tomorrow, but the way they were used, the lines he delivered, the subtle shots at Gomery’s ties to Ogilvy Renault and Bernard Roy…it was political theatre at its best. The fact that he held off defending himself until he knew it would have the greatest impact was also a very wise move. Westmount cheap.

And since all of his enemies were feeling blows on Tuesday, there was also a parting shot or two at Martin. I quote:

"During the course of my administration, the minister of finance and I always agreed to set aside $50 million a year for expenditures related to national unity that would be decided upon during the course of the year,"

Now, contrast this to what Martin has said:

"I had no idea what was going on here." – Prime Minister Paul Martin after the release of the report

"It is no secret that I did not have an easy relationship with those around the prime minister. In short, my advice was not routinely sought on issues related to Quebec." – Paul Martin


Should make Thursday even more interesting! As always, Martin’s got a tough act to follow.

22 Comments:

  • Excellent post CG, exactly what I intended to say but just couldn't get out. Martin is going to come off like an ass Thursday. But the sad thing is that this scandal never should have happened. If Martin had half the balls Chretien did he would have won a huge majority and nobody would have cared about the Sponsorship issue at all.

    By Blogger Gracchi, at 11:42 PM  

  • It amuses/disturbs me how you Liberal supporters easy buy into Cretin's razzle-dazzle and excuse the theft of taxpayer dollars just because he happens to be able to put up a good smokescreen.

    "THIS is how the scandal should have been handled in the first place."

    Bullshit. At least Martin was semi-honest and up front. Perhaps from a Liberals-should-always-be-elected point of view this is good strategy - but for everyone else, this is slime and sleaze.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 7:35 AM  

  • Andrew, it does not look like you read CG's post, or, for that matter, know what's happened with the sponsorship scandal since it began. Martin has been nothing but dishonest with us, pleading ignorance at every turn. Chretien, while he probably knows more than he lets on, at least took responsibility for the program itself, and expressed regret that things did go wrong.

    By Blogger Dirk, at 8:47 AM  

  • Dirk,

    I just don't buy the Liberal lines.

    Martin called the inquiry, which is a hell of a lot more ballsy than Chretein would be. That's (attempted) honestly - and if he's dithered and dodged since then...well, I don't exactly give him a lot of credit either - but he deserves more than his predecessor in addressing AdScam.

    Had Chretein still been at the helm we would never have a chance to know the truth about what went on - he would have blown it off (like he is now) with lame excuses, and the Canadian lock would have more or less believed him.

    At least under Martin we have the Inquiry - it's a valuable tool designed to get real facts, and avoid dodgey politicking.

    Rip off your rose coloured glasses and see these people for what they are.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 9:04 AM  

  • Please let us not delude ourselves into thinking that the sponsorship hearings (before and after the election) are about learning what really happened with portions of the $100M. For Martin it's about distancing himself from Chretien, and for the Conservatives/Bloc/NDP it's about scoring political points. This whole sponsorship inquiry has been nothing but dodgy politicing. I'm holding out hope that the RCMP will uncover the people behind the stealing of tax dollars.

    I agree with you that Chretien is at some level complicit in this scandal, but to think that we'll get any closer to the truth based on who is in the PMO is misguided.

    By Blogger Dirk, at 9:38 AM  

  • "this is slime and sleaze"

    No Andrew, what is slimy and sleazy is how conservatives have painted all of us liberals as crooks for the last year and a half while ignoring the context of the program completely. Plenty of hindsight, combined with blind moral outrage for political gain really doesn't raise the bar much on the discussion over the issue of who should be punished for the theft.

    By Blogger treehugger, at 10:17 AM  

  • I'd like to distance myself from the "I'm more jaded than you" discussion which precedes me, and poke at bit at the ordering of CG's post.

    I agree in the main with everything CG said, subject to the caveats that the shot at Martin was very subtle while those at Mulroney and Ogilvy were anything but. And there I take issue with him implicitly attacking Gomery's daughter, who as far as the public knows just happens to have a dad.

    Also, while I laughed my ass off watching the golf balls ("see? look how nice the box is! very nice box."), and will concede it was great political theatre, in hindsight it came across as a little tawdry. What I would have preferred was a stirring Martin Sheen style Presidential speech to accomplish the same ends (although that can be said about any given politician these days). But that opening statement came close in content, if not delivery.

    On the topic of the opening statement, I'll indulge in some substantive reflection to the effect that the issue of the inquiry has crystallized beautifully under Jean Carle and Chrétien's testimony. Namely, the dichotomy between money-laundering and the bipolar Liberal-Separatist nature of doing anything in Québec. Chrétien elegantly invoked the latter, and I give him more than top marks for the way he did so. And was dead silent on the proprieties of the government hiding cash payments to third parties who in turn made huge donations to the governing party. Which raises the corollary of WHO IN THE PARTY, much less government, knew. The issue is not bureaucratic incompetence, but *fradulent* and *political* direction.

    By Blogger matt, at 10:17 AM  

  • The partisan pigs in the Liberal Party will stop at nothing to defend their man. Whether it be the disgusting whisper campaign against the Auditor General, the political thuggery and gangsterism against a former BDC President or the relentless mockery of a Commission of Inquiry, we know what happens when you cross the Little Guy.

    Let me tell you about "context". If we really have any sense of self-worth as a country, then you should disabuse yourself of the notion that hundreds of millions of dollars were needed to persuade Quebeckers (who are rightly appalled) to stay in Canada. This central line of argument by the Chretienites speaks to their sad mentality, makes fools out of anyone that could be taken in by it and, most importantly, makes a mockery of my country.

    For that mockery, I spit on all of you.

    By Blogger the monarchist, at 10:59 AM  

  • Yawn. I think Lord Earl needs to go back to Mang.

    Excellent post, Bart. The right is going a bit nuts over this because they were really hoping Chretien would crumble before the inquiry. It was pretty much the exact opposite.

    By Blogger Timmy the G, at 12:02 PM  

  • "Chretien, while he probably knows more than he lets on, at least took responsibility for the program itself"

    Listen again to what he said: He claimed to be in charge, but denied everything when asked. In the end, he took responsibility for nothing.

    Then he makes the implicit claim that golf balls ensured Canadian unity. No, as his actions proved it was all about his personal ego. The manner he chose to glorify himself shows contempt for the Commission and some people think this is a great thing? Why would criminal sanction not be more appropriate?

    By Blogger Paul, at 12:43 PM  

  • "Yawn. I think Lord Earl needs to go back to Mang."

    Ditto Timmy.

    "Then he makes the implicit claim that golf balls ensured Canadian unity. No, as his actions proved it was all about his personal ego. The manner he chose to glorify himself shows contempt for the Commission and some people think this is a great thing? Why would criminal sanction not be more appropriate?"

    Paul, you have several remarks contained in your statement that are factually incorrect. Please do take the time to read the speech and the transcript. You will find it most useful in trying to form a less frothy opinion.

    By Blogger treehugger, at 1:52 PM  

  • Chretien showed that if he was still leader last June.. he would have won a majority in Parliament.. he runs circles around his political opponents, and he deseverdly made Gomery and Roy look like idiots (particularly Gomery).

    As for the sponsership, I think he did a great job reminding everyone what the background of the program was - the seperatists were funding their movement with public money to support their political agenda, and the Liberals had to respond. Its unfortunate that a few bad apples greased their palms.. and they should be punished.. but the overall program intent was to give Canada a more public profile in Quebec.

    The conservatives are just furious that Chretien came out smelling like roses and rubbed it in their faces.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 2:53 PM  

  • Treehugger, you're right that I have not reviewed the transcript. Instead, I watched the actual event on TV. Much more factually revealing, wouldn't you agree?

    What do you claim is factually incorrect in my statement? That Chretien claimed that the program's spending was all about unity? That the golf balls were about stroking his ego? Or perhaps you don't think I should ask any questions, just as good Liberals have been trained?

    By Blogger Paul, at 3:57 PM  

  • "Had Chretein still been at the helm we would never have a chance to know the truth about what went on - he would have blown it off (like he is now) with lame excuses, and the Canadian lock would have more or less believed him. "

    But what have we learned? How the Gomery Inquiry really shed any light onto things that we didn't already know? At the end of the day, it will be the RCMP investigation that will judge whether or not any criminal acts occured. Gomery's final report is unlikely to contain anything that Sheila Fraser hadn't already found.

    The only thing the Gomery Inquiry will produce is an extra 15 seats for the BQ in Quebec next election. As mentioned above, it's become nothing more than a cheap way to score political points.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:34 PM  

  • "At the end of the day, it will be the RCMP investigation that will judge whether or not any criminal acts occured. Gomery's final report is unlikely to contain anything that Sheila Fraser hadn't already found."Hmm. If anything short of criminality isn't worth looking into, then the RCMP investigation is sufficient. Likewise, if all you're concerned about is whether politicians and bureaucrats followed government policy regarding the sponsorship contracts, then the Auditor-General's report will do.

    But if - as a taxpayer - you're interested in how the perpetually-governing Liberals managed to manipulate the system; how they blurred the lines between legal and ethical; how they compounded questionable stragegies with even more questionable tactics; and how they mismanaged the entire enterprise on a scale not previously seen in Canadian politics, then the Gomery inquiry is worthwhile.

    The most useful thing about an inquiry like this is its scope.

    By Blogger Babbling Brooks, at 5:59 PM  

  • "Gomery's final report is unlikely to contain anything that Sheila Fraser hadn't already found."

    I disagree. Gomery has the power to subpoena documents and compel testimony. And has done so on a pretty big scale.

    Ultimately, the issue isn't the effectiveness of a unity strategy. It's about the degree to which political connections permeated and influenced the distribution of public funds for partisan rather than public purposes.

    By Blogger matt, at 6:51 PM  

  • Treehugger:

    I'm not sure where you get the idea that I'm attacking all Liberals. Perhaps I'm not being as precise in my wording as possible - but I'd like to think that people generally get the drift that when I (and others) call the Liberals corrupt I'm referring to the governing party, not its grassroot supporters.

    More than a decade in power made these guys feel invincible, and along the way they tried to line the pockets of their friends. Canadians have a right to know what went on, why, and who was involved.

    (BTW - I'm wondering where the odd notion that the RCMP are impartial enough to properly carry out an investigation into government criminal mismanagement comes from)

    By Blogger Andrew, at 8:58 PM  

  • Andrew:

    There is as of yet NO PROOF that the Liberal Party actively tried to line their friends pockets.. nor quite frankly, do I believe that it will. I believe it will show there were a few bad apples in the civil service and isolated members of the party that may have caused crimes.

    Chretien noted that he instructed "all proper bidding regulations are to be followed" in his Treasury Board
    order creating the program. He expected that to be taken seriously and that they were playing clean, and that if there was unscruplous activity, that they should be punishred and he would be "taking oranges to them in prison" (Another CLASSIC Chretien line).

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 9:35 PM  

  • I've always thought that Chretien was one of the most interesting characters in Canadian politics. He's one of those guys that I'm sure will go down in history and have his story told to kids in schools. I mean what world leader has done the kind of things he did (can you picture G.W. Bush beating down some guy who broke into his house?). Despite how unpopular he was during the last bit of his time in office, I think Chretien was quite an effective politician. Indeed, I would venture to argue that he was a superior PM than Martin is now (then again I'm an NDP supporter so....)

    -Socialist Swine

    By Blogger Socialist Swine, at 11:35 PM  

  • It's incredible how Liberal apologists are all falling into line over the scandal. "It was for the good of the country." "Mistakes were made." "A few bad apples in in the civil service, nothing more."

    People, this inquiry is not about debating whether the sponsorship program was a good idea or not. That's a political issue, one which obviouisly should have been debated more thoroughly at the time. Nor is this inquiry about golf balls.

    The reason M Chretien discussed both of these points at length was to hide the true purpose of Gomery and Roy, that being what happened to the unaccounted $100 million which went into the program. This isn't a mere trifling amount, the "few million dollars stolen" in order the "save the country", as Chretien so elegantly put it. This is an accusation that the money which went in for work never completed had found its way back again into the Liberal Party coffers. This is a serious accusation and I find it appalling that M Chretien is attempting to make a mockery of the inquiry.

    No matter who you are -- Liberal, Tory, miscellaneous -- this is your money which has disappeared. Doesn't that concern you?

    I'm asking Chretien's supporters this: if you claim that Chretien was a brilliant political animal, and if he claimed that this program took top priority in the PMO, doesn't it seem at odds that he doesn't appear to know any specific details about the program? Are you simply being naive at this man's convenient memory lapse?

    I can understand the frustration of Justice Gomery at the present moment, but the fact is, the truth will come out, and I'm willing to bet that when the cards are laid out on the table, Chretien will not only be shown to be an incompetant administrator of public funds, he will also be shown to be a liar under oath.

    "Money laundering". Keep that phrase in mind, people.

    By Blogger Rob Huck, at 9:43 AM  

  • Scott:

    On the topic of proof, this quote is culled from Spector's site, in turn taken from Daniel Leblanc's piece in today's Globe:

    “An advertising-industry salesman said yesterday he made a $50,000 donation to the federal Liberals in 1998 because the cash-strapped party couldn't meet its payroll in Montreal, highlighting the close ties at the time between ad agencies and the governing party.”

    By Blogger matt, at 10:27 AM  

  • Well Matt... if there's proof of wrong-doing, I am confident the RCMP will do its job and charge people... til then, public allegations mean little to me.. as the recent Sgro-pizza controversy shows.. just because someone SAYS something in the media doesnt mean its true.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 3:14 PM  

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