Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Glitch in the Big Red Machine

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.


  • Who put the sponsorship program under Gagliano's control and did not mention it to Dion?

    Who met with his buddy Corriveau at 24 Sussex?

    Who put his most trusted aides and yes men in Public works?

    Chretien has much to do with the scandal.

    By Blogger Don, at 9:30 a.m.  

  • Good post, CG. Going further would have been like kicking a hornets nest and not running away.


    Your statement "Sure, some members of his entourage have come across looking bad" has to be nominated as one of the biggest understatements of the year. Knowing and observing Chretien's style, I do think Chretien did not have actual knowledge of what his underlings were doing, but their corruption did more than just make them look bad, you have to admit. And certainly the perception in the public was that the corruption was broad, deep and that we knew only the smallest tip of a big iceberg.

    So in that context, your analysis correct about not going any further, but what would you have done. Duffy's review of Clarkson's book pointed out a couple of things that need to be addressed in an analysis of what to do: the Liberals dropped 17% after Adscam broke; and Turner, after being perceived as doing nothing about Trudeau's patronage, captained a ship with a soiled Liberal brand right into the shallows, a valuable historical lesson.

    While it is true that he may have taken the Turner lesson too much to heart and Liberals everywhere were screaming for him to run on his record instead of, well, simply being Paul Martin, I think if he had not done his Mad as Hell Tour, had not appointed Gomery, had not made Adscam a point of distinction between former and future Liberal governments, he would have been toast. No question about that at all in my mind.

    So maybe the details of his approach were not perfect, or the execution of the plan, but if Liberals wanted re-election that was the only route.


    p.s. Clarkson's other big point, with which I also disagree and think reflects a misunderstanding of the demographic direction of the country, is that really left Liberals win (Trudeau, Chretien) and so-called blue grits don't (Turner, Martin). That's simplistic and ignores the fact of context. It also ignores the kind of blue-er Liberals that are also getting elected across the country, like Gordon Cameron or Dalton McGuinty or McKenna before, who take a balanced approach - some left-ish policy here, some right-ish policy there.

    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 9:48 a.m.  

  • The 17 point drop was in the context of Martin's initial response which was pretty bad. Claiming "political direction" was likely not a wise move.

    Every time something bad has come out of Gomery, there's been a drop and then the numbers have come around. I tend to think it's because people get shocked initially and then realize it's not as terrible a scandal as the media (and PM) are making it out to be.

    The bottom line is, playing up a scandal will make the scandal bigger - I don't see how anyone can deny this.

    I'm not sure this is really comparable to the Turner incident but considering the Martin and Turner crowds are one and the same, it's likely they had horrific flashbacks of Turner and resolved not to make the same mistake twice. Turner's problem was announcing the patronage at the start of an election campaign - it would have been like PMPM droping the writ the day Sheila Fraser's report came out (or...30 days after Gomery's report?).

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:13 p.m.  

  • "(or...30 days after Gomery's report?)"

    Seems like with the Travers article in the Star yesterday, they are already planning ahead for that item. Nothing like a little bit of pre-release spin. Eh?


    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 1:51 p.m.  

  • CG,

    Just from a political management point of view, you're dead on about Martin having to stay away from Chretien last year.

    Best thing that ever could have happened to the Tories would have been the insuing battle between the two sides and I'm sure it would have gone on for generations.

    By Blogger The Hack, at 7:37 p.m.  

  • I am sorry to disagree, CG, but Chrétien had everything to do with it. He's been involved in a number of scandals, and Adscam would be right up his ally.

    My in-laws are Quebeckers, so I get to hear a lot of opinions from la belle province. Quebeckers, for the most part, don't blame Martin, but Chrétien!

    By Blogger AWR, at 9:10 p.m.  

  • I should also mention that my father-in-law used to work for Revenue Québec, and he's got quite the insight into political goings-on, especially when they concern his home province.

    He recently drew a convoluted diagram for me, naming all the guilty parties in Adscam, and all the arrows were pointing back at ... Chrétien.

    Why do you think, after so much bad blood and foot-dragging, Chrétien suddenly decided to hand the reins to Martin on December 12 of that year? Because Chrétien had seen the Auditor-General's report and knew what was coming. He simply wanted to get out and pass the buck to his arch nemesis.

    By Blogger AWR, at 9:14 p.m.  

  • You might be right. However, that would lead me to the conclusion that Martin caught the right balance - he went after Chretien without losing the votes of almost all Chretien Liberals. Add a proper focus on the positive Liberal record (instead of calling the election to fight "American-style tax cuts"!) and he might have pulled off a minor miracle.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 10:06 p.m.  

  • I'm not a huge fan of Chretien's but I don't think he had actual concrete knowledge of much. Even if the "arrows all pointed to him", after four decades in office he had some very very loyal people around him ready to fall on their swords (that's about the only thing he and Martin have in common), plus he was politically savy enough to know that he ought not to know or go try and find out too much.

    And in addition to that, he was too busy to know much, what with his golf ball collection to keep up and all.


    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 12:07 a.m.  

  • The Canadian people were outraged. I think they wanted to see an outraged Prime Minister.

    Paul Martin's response could have been more emotionally charged. Even just appearing angry would have made the electorate identify with him.

    Sure you can't crucify Chretien, but certainly, Gagliano?

    I think that Martin could have gained 10 points simply by letting an 'f' bomb fly.

    And if he didn't want to do it, I'm sure Baryl Wajsman would have been happy to do it for a fee. I love that guy...


    By Blogger James Bowie, at 2:23 a.m.  

  • CG

    New information about the Gomery report was unsealed last week,

    YAWN! Quebeckers don't care anymore. No matter what side they are on, they have all made up their minds.

    Jason's strategy is horrendous and you know what Jason, JLC(Q) was laughing when we read that. We all were. Chretien did nothing but yu want Martin to blame him so it would look better for Martin...Isn't that lying?

    I still think an RCMP investigation would have sufficed. now the gong show is over and Lucien Bouchard is butting into the PQ leadership race...

    allegations of corruption arent interesting anymore when there are drug admissions and separatist backstabbing going on...not to mention Doc Mailloux

    By Blogger Anthony, at 4:59 p.m.  

  • You are right about the balme game. Ralph Klein very effectively blamed all of Alberta's problems on Getty and destroyed his reputation. But, Klein got elected.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:40 p.m.  

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