On naming and dealing with scandal

As some of the air has been taken out of the so-called “Cadscam”, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at which communications goals were achieved by how this “scandal” was named and then let’s investigate how other scandals get their names. Further, I want to take a look at how the Conservatives are dealing with these issues during their minority government.

It seems as though every scandal that emerges in the U.S. gets the -gate suffix after the famous burglary of the DNC headquarters at the hotel which came to provide inspiration for the name. Since Watergate, we’ve seen lexicographic laziness as subsequent scandals relied on the formula by which the subject of the scandal became the root of the scandal name followed by “gate”. Wikipedia has a list of scandals based on this modèle-de-mot.

In Canada, we famously have watched the progression of “Adscam” from start to finish. Andrew Coyne — then a columnist at the National Post and now a senior editor at Maclean’s — gave the moniker to the sponsorship scandal. The scandal coiner (sorry) originally cited that he wanted to avoid the familiar -gate standby and he came to rest on a derivation of Abscam, a decades-old American political scandal that netted the convictions of a number of elected officials. Adscam, however, still registers zero on political prosecutions.

NAFTA-gate is so unfortunately named because the scandal — although up in Canada, we desperately try to claim some outrage too — is rooted in U.S. politics. If the leak was anything beyond tangential, we may have had the right to name it NAFTAscam, or Obamaramascama, but we are only secondary characters in the drama at it now simmers south of our southern border. An enterprising tech entrepreneur should immediately go and register a number of possible iteration of -gate.com and -scam.ca to cash in on the mania. As the official opposition is awol in Canada, there’ll be a scandal every week as Dion and co. focus on character assassination rather than policy opposition. Bring on Harperscam, Senatescam, and Partisanscam! In the U.S., while it is surprising to see a scandal based upon policy rather than sex, we still may see -gates reminiscent of Lewinskygate as ex-lovers and past trysts are brought to the fore (we’ve already seen a McCain sex scandal resurface that was fresh 8 years ago during the 2000 campaign).

It is interesting to note that “Cadscam” originally emerged from the Ottawa press. With Adscam so recent, it’s not entirely surprising to see this name stick. However, it is a double-edged sword for those who would carelessly wield it to damage the Conservatives. The advantage of “Cadscam” for the Liberals is that it diminishes the branding of their own scandal by creating a “politicians are all the same” way of thinking among the general public. However, the very use of the name is a constant reminder of their own scandal which ultimately brought their 13-year reign to an end. Yet, on sum I would say that it is to the Liberals’ net advantage to use the “Cadscam” name for one of the main Conservative advantages has been that they have framed themselves as the team that was elected to ‘clean up Ottawa’ and they told the electorate that ‘a new era of accountability was upon us’.

If accountability represents one pillar of this Conservative administration, this scandal has Conservatives worried because it also strikes at the very base of the other pillar: leadership. As Dona Cadman has cleared Conservative leader Stephen Harper from involvement, we can understand that perception is everything in politics and as the Conservatives clean up this mess, we see that timing and credibility are the primary factors for damage control. Of course, another key element that we have seen is pushback. Harper’s pending lawsuit against Dion is evidence of this.

Some have questioned the Prime Minister’s lack of substantive enunciation on the topic and say that he should have come forward right away to clear the air and answer any questions. Since the allegations were based on old and second-hand information, what the Prime Minister’s strategy continues to be is one that doesn’t give the intense spotlight of his office to a scandal that he cannot begin to define in his own terms. In contrast, on “NAFTA-gate”, the Prime Minister has put the full resources of his government on determining the source of the leak which impaired Obama in the Ohio primary. Some say that the PM has changed the channel on “Cadscam”, and whether or not this was deliberate on the his part, this is indeed what has happened. NAFTA-gate, as far as a news story goes, has much more momentum, involves more players, and does not have any heavy legal consequences for the Prime Minister and his team. It’s an embarrassing scandal to be sure, however, it is not one that is likely to change voter intention in the next Canadian federal election. As Canadians, I think we’re just happy that we heard our names mentioned on American TV.

If we take a substantive look at both “scandals”, the so-called “Cadscam” smells bad, but in the end it hasn’t got any legs: the three people at the centre of the allegations all denied a deal (Cadman included) and anything else is completely speculative. Unless Dion has a smoking gun, the only factor that will continue to define the story is Harper’s libel suit against the oppo leader. The Liberals might continue their pressure in the House’s ethics committee, however, they should be mindful that there is a point to be made, backed up by an easily built narrative, that the Liberals are on a witch-hunt and that they have tried to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks. On “NAFTA-gate”, there are too many speculative details for this to continue beyond the continued policy-bereft warbling of Dion in the House.

If all else fails, the Conservatives should unveil what Dion would gladly term the “hidden agenda” and dare the opposition to debate on real policy rather than trumped-up scandal.

Transcript of Jack Layton on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight

The following is a transcript of NDP leader Jack Layton’s appearance on CNN’s Lou Dobbs tonight on March 6th, 2008:

DOBBS: Let’s take a different perspective on NAFTA if we may tonight, this one the Canadian perspective. At least one Canadian perspective and one major Canadian political party that adamantly is opposed to the trade agreement and to the threat of the North American Union.

Jack Layton is the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party and he joins us tonight from Ottawa.

Jack, great to have you with us.

JACK LAYTON, CANADA’S NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER: Good to be with you, Lou.

DOBBS: The Canadian perspective, on NAFTA a lot of grumbling here and a lot of talk if it should be omitted in our presidential contest as well. Your thoughts?

LAYTON: We think NAFTA is not working well for working families and the middle class. I will just give you a couple examples. Here in Canada we have lost a third of a million jobs in the last three years in the manufacturing sector. The kind of jobs that allow people to pay a mortgage, to raise their kids, to make contributions to the local hockey team — we love hockey here in Canada, and really to the backbone and to the community. And they’re now finding the jobs that are available when they get laid off — out of these plants because their jobs have now been sent off to a far-off land where wages are one one-hundredth of what they are here — the kind of jobs they can find in Canada are minimum wage.

They can’t pay their mortgages, they are really struggling and I know many American workers are finding exactly the same thing. I think it’s time we made a little common cause and make sure the trade deals are working for the people who make the economy work.

DOBBS: I think most Americans would not pay attention a great deal to the fact Canada is a parallel, if you will, universe in terms of these agreements. When you talk about a third of a million jobs, that goes beyond just NAFTA, that goes to Canada’s overall trade policies, does it not?

LAYTON: Yes it does. Just to give you some examples. We ship raw logs from our forest all the way over to China where they are turned into products and they come back and we buy them. We even find sometimes the products don’t meet our standards our here. I heard you talking about toxic toothpaste in the U.S.

We’ve been facing toxic toys here in Canada. There goes the jobs. The trees go and they take the jobs with them and I know the West Coast is experiencing many of the same things. We need some fair and sustainable trade. That’s what we’ve got to put together.

DOBBS: What a wonderful expression. Fair and sustainable trade. In other words, Jack, let me say, I think many people, are surprised as they listen to you talking about the problems with NAFTA from your perspective, those are precisely what we’re doing now.

We’re sending timber and bringing back lumber. We’re exporting soybeans and scrap and taking in computers from China. The principle source of our computers, our consumer electronics and we look like a third world country for crying out loud.

LAYTON: It’s these multinational organizations under this so- called phrase globalization feel they can consume and produce in their own interests. And they are certainly doing very well by it but it leaves a lot of people behind and that’s why we think a renegotiation of trade should take place and today in Washington, our trade critic, Peter Julian was there from our party working with Congress members and legislators from Mexico to set up a working group to set up a working group. That is a bit of good news today.

DOBBS: Real quickly, we are out of time. Jack Layton, Mr. Brodie, the prime minister’s chief of staff, some talk about him being the source of that leak of Obama-gate as it is called here? Your reaction?

LAYTON: I asked the prime minister today in the House of Commons to apologize to the American people for this kind of interference on the democratic process in the U.S. It’s not right, he hasn’t yet apologized and he hasn’t yet fired the source of the leak. So we’ll keep working on that on our end.

DOBBS: It’s nice and it’s absolutely reassuring, Jack Layton, to find that politics are not just a mess here but occasionally up north. We thank you for taking time with us and hope you’ll come back soon as we discuss these important issues for working men and women and their families and both candidates and the United States and Mexico for that matter.

LAYTON: For sure, Lou. Take care.

DOBBS: Thank you. You too.

Up next here, Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez at it again. Moving troops up to the border with Colombia, maybe he intends to use them. We’ll have that report.

And five years since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security a few questions remain like why aren’t our borders and ports secure? I’ll be talking with Congressman Lamar Smith about that.

We’re coming right back. Stay with us.

For whatever the depth of this “scandal” for all parties that message on it, it’s a good one for Jack Layton because it fits well into his message track as he advocates on his views regarding organized labour, manufacturing, and free trade. This sets Layton up firmly against our Conservative Prime Minister who stands opposed to Layton’s principled, however misguided, views on most, if not all of these issues. Jack Layton receives great profile here from CNN and if we contrast this to the faltering leadership of Leader of the Opposition Stephane Dion, we find Layton to be more of a credible voice for those that oppose the Conservative government’s agenda.

Also a scandal in Canada is that the news media is focusing more upon the leak on Obama’s position rather than the Chicago senator’s nebulous position itself. The preservation of NAFTA and full political disclosure of the candidates on the issue is in Canada’s best interest. While it is unfortunate that there is now a perception of interference in US electoral politics by Canadian government staff, Canada is better off for having the issue front and centre on the US political stage. Americans are now be able to evaluate the positions of their political candidates on such an issue of importance to Canada. It is to Canada’s advantage that U.S. candidates for president are now being vetted on their position regarding free trade with our country.

In the U.S., the scandal is based on full disclosure of policy in a political campaign (“keeping them honest”, as Lou Dobbs might say). In Canada, the scandal is the inappropriate nature by which Americans were given an opportunity to have an honest policy debate.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be affected by renegotiating or ripping up NAFTA. What’s got the Ottawa press buzzing is which one job close to the Prime Minister (in Ottawa or Washington) may be affected instead.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the Obama leak

It’s official, the Canadian government will be using every available resource to investigate the source of the Obama leak.

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister stated:

Well Mr. Speaker, I don’t think I could be plainer, we will take every step necessary to get to the bottom of this. The leak of this kind of information for whatever reason by whomever is completely unacceptable to the government of Canada. It is not useful, it is not in the interest of the government of Canada, and the way the leak was executed Mr. Speaker, was blatantly unfair to Senator Obama and his campaign. Mr. Speaker, we will make sure that every legal and every investigative technique necessary is undertaken to find out who exactly is behind this.

This was a necessary move by the Prime Minister in order to maintain strong diplomatic ties with whoever becomes president in January 2009. Canada cannot be seen to be interfering with the U.S. electoral process and this move indicates that the leadership of this government holds this firm view.

Harper removed from Cadman related allegation

Hot off the press:

SURREY, B.C. – The wife of former Surrey-North MP Chuck Cadman says she believes Prime Minister Stephen Harper had no knowledge of any inappropriate offer to her husband.

Dona Cadman says she spoke with Harper more than two years ago about the alleged offer of a one million dollar insurance policy to her husband.

In a statement to Canadian Press, Cadman says Harper looked her straight in the eyes and told her he had no knowledge of an insurance offer.

Cadman says she believed Harper and put the entire incident down to the overzealous indiscretion of a couple of individuals who were never named by her husband.

“CADSCAM” is quickly being deflated.

See Harper vs. Dion

Harper serves Dion

Today, the Prime Minister served notice to Liberal leader Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff, Ralph Goodale and the Liberal Party of Canada indicating that they have libeled him with regards to the Chuck Cadman affair.

Harper’s lawyer insists that the Liberals preserve email and phone records surrounding this topic. If the Liberals are to maintain their position that Stephen Harper was somehow involved with a plan to bribe Chuck Cadman, they will have to go through a discovery phase where those records will become public. Harper likely hopes that this would put the Liberals in a difficult position and probably suspects that information surrounding leaks, potential collaboration and planning will emerge. The Prime Minister is insisting that the Liberals show their cards and we’ll see if the Liberals fold. If records are not provided, obstructionism has legal consequences too.

Many Ottawa-based observers expected the Prime Minister to make a statement or fire a strong salvo at the Liberals this morning. It appears that he’s done both.

The notice of libel is below:

Liberals back down from fundraiser, choose to follow the law…

… after being caught.

Timeline:
February 8th: News of Liberal fundraising scandal breaks on this website
February 12th: Conservatives demand answers
February 13th: Story “breaks” in MSM
February 13th: Liberal hypocrisy exposed in House of Commons

For news on the Liberals four days earlier, read stephentaylor.ca. For Liberal editorials, read The Globe and Mail.

Conservatives demand answers on Liberal fundraising scheme

In response to a story broken here three days ago, the Conservatives are demanding answers from Elections Canada on the Grit fundraising auction being held among the 8 Ottawa ridings, where according to the Liberals, “the sky is the limit” and successful bids do not count as donations.

From: Poilievre, Pierre – M.P. [mailto:PoiliP@parl.gc.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 3:08 PM
To: commissionersoffice@elections.ca
Subject: “Liberal Party of Canada Cocktail Event” – Investigate

Commissioner of Canada Elections
c/o Elections Canada
257 Slater Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0M6

February 12, 2008

Dear Sir,

I have become aware of a Liberal Party of Canada Cocktail Event scheduled for February 13th boasts that “the sky is the limit for this auction. A successful bid is not a political contribution…as such individuals, partnerships, corporations and associations are free to bid as high as they want.” The event boasts auction items including:

* Golf with former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.
* Attending a hockey game with senior Liberal Member of Parliament
and former Liberal leadership contender, Ken Dryden.
* Tennis with Liberal star candidate Bob Rae and his brother Liberal campaign Co-Chair, John Rae.
* Lunch with Liberal Deputy Leader Michael Ignatieff.
* Lunch with former Liberal Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau’s son, Justin.
* Lunch with former Liberal Leadership candidate, Scott Brison

…..and more!

This event raises serious questions surrounding the legality of the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party of Canada. I respectfully ask that you investigate whether or not this event complies with the sprit of the Federal Accountability Act and other federal political party fundraising legislation.

If you allow the Liberal Party to use these methods, you will have unilaterally repealed all of the campaign finance legislation passed over the last five years, and you will be reintroducing big money and corporate cash into our political process.

With the possibly of a federal election happening in the near future I hope that this matter can be dealt with great expediency.

Sincerely,

Pierre Poilievre
Member of Parliament
Nepean-Carlton

Liberal fundraising, alive and well!

Just landed in my inbox, this alleged Liberal fundraising flyer:

According to the flyer, items to be auctioned off to raise money for eight Ottawa-area federal Liberal riding associations include among other things:

– Golf with Paul Martin
– Hockey tickets with Ken Dryden

It is specified that “the sky is the limit” during the auction and according to the flyer, “A successful bid does not count as a political contribution and is not eligible for a receipt for income tax purposes” and conveniently, “your successful bid will not affect your annual political contribution limit of $1100.” And “bids” from corporations? Why not!

Well, that’s reassuring…

It would appear that the Liberals claim that the federal Elections Act doesn’t apply to this kind of political fundraising because the Liberals say so.

The Liberals used to “raise money” outside of the oversight of the Elections Act by giving hockey tickets to Quebec advertising executives. It’s good to see that if the Liberals go through with this fundraiser as described, they are opening up the process outside of that exclusive network to their Ottawa membership. If so, it’s too bad for Canadians that the Liberals think that circumventing the law is different from breaking it.

Dion to apologize to Dimitri Soudas or get sued

Lawyers for Dimitri Soudas have filed notice to Liberal leader Stephane Dion for what they claim is defamatory libel against their client. Attached below is the letter on behalf of Mr. Soudas that was hand-delivered to Stephane Dion this morning. Soudas is the deputy press secretary to Prime Minister Harper. According to the National Post, over a year ago Mr. Soudas arranged a meeting between Public Works and Rosedev, a development company from Montreal. Conservatives reject this as well and insist that Soudas only requested information from ministerial staffers with respect to a court case. Despite this assertion, impropriety has been alleged regarding the meeting, which Soudas rejects. Dion, in his classic communications style may have bitten off more than he can chew.

Mr. Dion is quoted in the Canwest papers this morning:

“That means that there was an attempt to extort taxpayers funds to benefit a party supporter and therefore change the decision process and (they say) it’s not important because it didn’t succeed. I think the prime minister has a lot to explain.” — Stephane Dion

UPDATE: Dion says he’s sorry, sort of