Thursday, June 09, 2011

It matters

Just wanted to pick up on a thought in Warren Kinsella's post on the release of the Auditor General's report today: "Lying liars."

The Auditor General's report has confirmed what came up during the election, that there was serious non-disclosure to Parliament of G8 costs. Border infrastructure funds were used for pork barrel projects in Tony Clement's riding. Inexcusable. Yet the Conservatives were dancing on the head of the existential pin today, defending it all. Harper told us:
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper effectively shrugged. Indeed, he candidly told the Commons the border fund has been used routinely for other purposes.

"If the leader of the Liberal party had looked at the border fund he would realize it's frequently used for projects that are not in border communities," Harper said, raising hoots of derision from opposition benches.
Laughably, the border fund isn't about the border. It's actually some kind of free-for-all fund. Everyone apparently knows that according to our PM. But, if you look at the parliamentary disclosure that was made by these Conservatives, there isn't any clue that G8 spending would have been found there. The PM's position isn't defensible.

Kinsella asks the question, given the Conservatives now having their majority:
The questions that remain, then, are these: does this kind of deceit matter anymore? Shouldn’t it? Are the Conservatives right, when they sneer that you and your neighbours don’t care?
Whether it matters is a good question. I think the answer is yes and that the Conservatives are wrong to think that people don't care. They've just been able to get away with it to date.

Look at the B.C. Liberals who were re-elected with a majority government in the spring of 2009 and yet their leader was subsequently driven from office in the HST fallout. Being up front with voters on a pocket book issue was shown to matter significantly there. I'd also look to Jean Charest and the difficulties he's had in the polls, with high profile efforts to get him to resign, in the wake of public outrage over links between party financing and government contracting, for example.

We have also seen fuses lit on single issues, see the usage-based billing CRTC decision, for example where the Conservatives stepped in to overrule it: "The CRTC decision has sparked outrage across the country with Canadians rushing to sign petitions asking the Conservative government to reverse it." On a comparable level, there was also the foreign takeover of Saskatchewan's Potash Corporation that was blocked due to solid public opinion in opposition to it, fostered by strong provincial government opposition. Outrage in Canadians can clearly be kindled.

At the federal level, we're dealing with a different animal. One acutely conscious of public opinion, highly messaged and disciplined. Willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to bolster their messaging. And yes, the opposition to them is dispersed and media is Conservative friendly. The deck is stacked like never before. But it doesn't mean that their fuse moment can't come. Especially if they keep poking taxpayers in the eye and making decisions that seed resentment. They may think they're impervious to a run on public opinion against them but there's enough evidence to think it's just as likely that it could happen.