In a surprising and unpredictable stand, Jason Cherniak has sided with John Duffy
on a Paul Martin related topic. The topic in question? Stephen Clarkson's analysis of PMPM's handling of Sheila Fraser's infamous report in his new book, Big Red Machine
(which is SO going on my Christmas list). Duffy, a Paul Martin strategist, feels that Clarkson is being a bit hard on...err...Paul Martin strategists and Paul's handling of the sponsorship scandal. Since this blog wasn't around when Adscam first hit, I figured I'd weigh in on the topic. For those who forget, here was Paul's response:
Day 1: Look of panic, no real message
Day 2: Blamed scandal on "rogue" civil servants
Day 3: Said there was "political direction", thereby implicating the Liberal Party
Day 4: Call an inquiry into the scandal
This was done against the backdrop of Martin's entourage blaming as much of the scandal on Chretien and the old regime as he possibly could. He then proceeded to go on the infamous Mad as Hell tour where the message was pretty much "This is the worst scandal ever! This is sickening! Liberals are corrupt! Someone should be punished for this! THIS IS A TERRIBLE SCANDAL!!!
As you can probably guess by my unbiased recap, I tend to side with Stephen Clarkson (who has studied the Liberal Party for 30 years) and most pundits not affiliated with Earnscliffe , who agree this was one of the worst managed scandals in Canadian history. I don't think I've ever seen a political leader play up
the seriousness of a money scandal involving his party, at a time when he was Finance Minister and Vice President of the Treasury Board. It's obvious that Paul thought he was bigger than the party and that destroying the Liberal brand name would not hurt his chances in the slightest. Clearly, he was wrong. Appointing a full public inquiry that would give everyone with an axe to grind with the government a pulpit where they could say whatever they wanted with immunity was also likely not a brilliant move in retrospect. I'm not debating what the "right" or "wrong" thing to do was - merely what the smart thing or incredibly mind numbingly stupid thing to do was.
Now, as for Jason's strategy. He feels Martin should have gone one step farther by publicly attacking Chretien and trying to pin the whole thing on him. I can see a few problems with this strategy...perhaps some readers can point out others:
1. It would have inevitably unleashed an all out Liberal Party civil war. You think Chretien Liberals sat on their hands during the last election? Well, despite that, they still voted Liberal, donated money to the Liberals, and did a bit of door knocking. Martin would have alienated half of his party's members in one swoop...
2. ...which would likely have caused him some problems come leadership review time. I also suspect he would have had more than a few losing candidates and Carol Jamieson clones to worry about.
3. As hypothesized by others
, the Chretien guys would likely have hit back with a slew of Earnscliffe dirt and any other skeletons Martin has built up over the past decade.
4. By trying to pin the scandal on Chretien, Martin would look petty and vindictive. That might not go over well with the voters.
5. Blaming a Prime Minister for the scandal would have made the scandal bigger.
6. Blaming a Prime Minister for the scandal would have made it even more of a Liberal Party scandal. Chretien's staff and organizers are Liberals. Chuck Guite isn't. Martin would have been implying his government was behind the scandal and would have made Canadians even more angry towards the Liberal Party. And with an election around the corner, wouldn't you know it, voters would have had a great chance to punish the Liberal Party.
7. By distancing himself completely from the old rule, it would have been impossible for Martin to run on any part of the Liberal record. And when you have a record of a decade of good, popular government, it baffles me why anyone would want to throw that record out.
8. And here's the little fact Jason has overlooked: Chretien had nothing to do with the scandal. Sure, some members of his entourage have come across looking bad, but JC has overlooked the point that JC wasn't implicated. So, uhh, it would have been difficult for Paul to blame Chretien for it.