Moment of the Decade: #5 Adscam
I’ve had Paul Martin’s autobiography on my desk for over a year. I've been meaning to write up a book review on it but for some reason I keep dithering.
I have, however, read his Adscam chapter, and here’s how he explains it:
I personally believe that a government whose ethics are doubted – rightly or wrongly – is a government paralyzed. You cannot summon the political will or public support for change unless people are prepared to give you their trust. That is why I decided to call a judicial inquiry that was led by Mr. Justice John Gomery.
Let’s be clear: it was the misdeeds revealed by the Auditor General and later by the Gomery inquiry that damaged the party. My condemnation of them was right in principle and also, as it happened, right politically. That catastrophic drop in the polls the day after the Auditor General’s report was released was quickly stemmed and then at least partly reversed as I showed the public that I shared their outrage.
As I see it, Martin hits the head on the nail in the first line I quoted. Governments become paralyzed when their ethics are doubted. The problem is, the Gomery inquiry only served to cast more doubts, as Martin himself admits when he says the Gomery inquiry revelations damaged the party.
So, contrary to what Martin claims, I’m not so sure calling the inquiry was the right thing to do politically and I think his narrative on what happened in terms of public opinion is way off. Here’s what some polls said at the time:
"This one is like a wildfire," [Ipsos-Reid president, Darrell Bricker] said. "It's out of control and everything the prime minister has done at this point has just blown the flames higher."
Despite a determined effort to restore Canadians' confidence in government, support for the ruling Liberal Party continues to slide. A new poll shows support for the Liberals has fallen another four points since Thursday.
The AG’s report was provocative and when you poll on a day when it’s on the front page of newspapers across the country, of course you're going to see movement in the polls. However, you’d normally expect that gut-reaction drop to recover and, given what we saw in the ’04 and ’06 elections, the reaction only got worse over time as support solidified against the Liberals.
But maybe Martin’s right and it would have been worse had an inquiry not been called. So the question is, was it the right thing to do? I’m not so sure.
Because, after the “explosive” embargoed testimony was made public, after Jean Chrétien’s show with the golf balls, after Quebecers saw the daily soap opera on TV, and after the opposition used Gomery’s report to bring down the government, I’m still not sure what the inquiry accomplished. I’m not being glib here – criminal acts were committed and people went to jail. But let’s be perfectly clear - no one went to jail because of the Gomery report and most of the good judge’s recommendations were either considered to be unenforceable or ignored - ignored by Stephen Harper, not the libranos.
All that said, we can debate whether or not the inquiry should have been called, but I think everyone can agree the AG’s report and the fallout from it certainly left their mark on the decade that was in Canadian politics.