Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Cadman affair

There's been some strange developments in the bizarre case of Chuck Cadman, the late independent MP, whom opponents of Stephen Harper allege was offered a life insurance policy by the Tories in exchange for a crucial swing vote to bring down the Liberal government, all while he lay dying of cancer in hospital. Pretty morbid, and if true, it would raise significant concerns about the ethics of the Harper gang. The Tories claim that the only offer made was to help Cadman with campaign expenses should he decide to run as a Conservative.

Anyway, in the past couple days, an audio interview of Stephen Harper emerged in which he said, "I don't know the details. I know that um, there were discussions, um. But this is not for publication?", referring to the alleged offer to Cadman, and the Liberals have used this to claim that Harper was at least aware of a financial offer.

The only problem is that the Tories say the tape was doctored, and that Harper's answer was actually in reference to a different question. The interview was made by BC journalist Tom Zytaruk, who recently wrote a biography of Mr. Cadman, and he denies any attempt at manipulation.

I honestly don't know what to believe, but it doesn't seem as though the tape has proof that Harper knew about any life insurance offer to Cadman, nor does it seem that the tape was intentionally doctored to smear Harper, and the Government may be being a little over-defensive on this.

I often criticize US politics for being obsessed with media-driven narratives that have little relevance to the real issues that people care about, but in all fairness, I think Canadian politics is even less issue driven. Since the various parties are not as starkly defined by ideology, there is inevitably less emphasis on policy. Everyone knows that the Conservatives are not going to outlaw abortion or get rid of universal health care. The moderate views of most Canadians make such drastic action politically impossible. Likewise, everyone knows that the Liberals can be trusted to take a middling stance on practically every issue. As for the NDP...well, they'll never get elected.

What this amounts to, especially with minority governments, is much greater concern about conduct, rather than policy. The Cadman affair is only one example; the Harper government has also been criticized (quite rightly) for undue secrecy and a confrontational relationship with the press. Likewise, the previous Liberal government was brought down by a corruption scandal that was quite unrelated to any partisan issue.

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