Monday, May 05, 2008

When your friends are calling you a ball biter...

A few points on the in-and-out issue that won't go away...

With Pierre Poilievre's elevated profile of late on the in-and-out scheme comes media attention. There's a good report in the Hill Times today on the tyke: "Harper's loyal, patronizing and new spokesman on 'in-and-out'." Some excerpts:
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who observers call both wily and patronizing, has been given the task of defending the government over the "in-and-out" election financing controversy, and like a good soldier, he seemed to take more questions than any other government MP in Question Period last week.

But the choice of Mr. Poilievre for the job is a curious one. It appears to be part of a Tory strategy to downplay the seriousness of the controversy, as cameras fix not on a Cabinet minister, but a young party loyalist.

Indeed, a Conservative source told The Hill Times last week that lowering the in-and-out election financing issue beneath Cabinet is a way of reducing its importance, while at the same time protecting the integrity of the Prime Minister's Office and ministerial offices. "If you change the spokesperson, you change the importance of it in the eyes of the audience," the Conservative said. "Better to have somebody who isn't a Cabinet minister doing that sort of stuff." (emphasis added)
Yes, especially when close to 60% of the Canadian public doesn't believe the Conservatives, a wise choice indeed to put such a figure out front. He's working miracles on those poll numbers. If the idea is to deflect and downplay the in-and-out scheme, Poilievre, it seems to me, has had the opposite effect. He's done nothing but inflame the issue with his repeated taunts of opposition members in the House, as he did again today, impugning their election expenses as being of the same ilk as the Conservatives. When, as we all know, it's only the Conservatives who are being investigated by the Commissioner of Elections for national limit overspending. Pierre's script, to which he apparently sticks "strictly," is becoming theatre of the absurd. And his act doesn't wear well in Parliament:
"These are really serious issues here," Mr. Angus said, and any suggestion by the government that Elections Canada has a kind of partisan bias crosses far beyond the lines of governing responsibly. He said Mr. Poilievre may come across as funny with "the young neo-con university crowd," but not in Parliament. "The Prime Minister for whatever reason has decided to bring in the circus master," he said.

"I think youthful enthusiasm is great.... But what concerns me with Pierre Poilievre is that element that there's always a smirk on his face. I don't know if he always gets the gravity of the situation, of what we deal with in Parliament," Mr. Angus said.

It's said that, on occasion, Mr. Poilievre has been criticized even by his caucus colleagues for being too forceful or consistent in his attacks, which if made inopportunely, can backfire. "Pierre can be a little bit smarmy. That doesn't always rub people in your own party well," the Conservative source said, especially when the Tories are already facing criticism that the party lacks warmth. "He's young, he's cocky, he's aggressive, and he sees himself as a bit of a ball biter." (emphasis added)
There is that aspect on display, isn't there? Nothing appears to be off limits in the effort to defend the Conservatives at all costs. Poilievre has his defenders, reported in the article as well, chiefly the PM if he's put Poilievre out in front on such a major issue. Affirming once again the flawed judgment of the PM. But there clearly are those within the Conservative party who know exactly what's happening with Poilievre's involvement. And if this scandal sees charges being brought in the near future, Poilievre's got a whole new world of p.r. trouble to deal with. They really like to dump on the "up and comers" don't they?

Speaking of the prospect of the in-and-out scheme producing charges in the near future, Paul Wells' account and le Devoir's report on damning Conservative emails are definitely worth a look. The emails paint a picture of individuals at the national level trying to find room in Quebec riding budgets to transfer in-and-out funds for ad buys. The emails clearly suggest national control over national expenses. For example:
"Donison writes 34 minutes later…) ‘Andrew, we need 8 ridings on top of the 18 you’ve picked. Which are the eight ridings that could best receive any of these ads and we’ll go ahead with those. Are you able to give us precise names? If not, let me know and I’ll check with our Quebec team.’”
Receive the ads. My, that doesn't look like local spending now, does it?

These emails come from the filings by the Commissioner of Elections in support of the search warrant in the Ontario Court, le Devoir notes. Wonder what else is coming down the pipeline from there? And I wonder what tales Pierre will have to regale us with tomorrow in response?

(h/t Accidental Deliberations on the Wells item)