CFN – Is history repeating itself? I would bet Prime Minister Harper certainly hopes it doesn’t, at least not while he is the Prime Minister.
Back in February of 2004, then Auditor General Sheila Fraser brought in a report that kicked off what would eventually become known as the sponsorship scandal. The negative press coverage this generated for the Liberals led to first a minority Liberal government in 2005, which was followed by a Conservative minority government in February 2006. Much of the Conservative success under Harper was due to the public perception that the Liberal Party misused taxpayer’s dollars and that it had become scandal plagued.
This view of the Liberal Party didn’t happen overnight. It took time to develop; as a matter of fact it took 21 months from Fraser’s report until the Paul Martin minority government of 2005. Throughout that time period there was a steady stream of negative stories that were just sensational enough that they caught the attention of the public in a way that most political stories never do.
Harper has to be concerned that the on-going Senate scandal doesn’t cause history to repeat itself. Twenty-one months is a long time in politics, but under his leadership the Conservatives were able to keep Liberal scandals front and center and on the minds of the voters.
This time around the names are different, there are also different allegations of spending abuse, but the public appears to be as equally fascinated with this Senate scandal as they were with the sponsorship scandal from 2004-2006.
Paul Martin was faced with the revelations of not only Sheila Fraser, but the subsequent Gomery inquiry, especially the first Gomery report in 2005. Harper doesn’t have to face anything as damning, but he has had two audits by Deloitte on his Conservative appointees to the Senate (Wallin and Duffy) and fortunately for the Prime Minister one on Liberal senator Mac Harb, all of which have served to keep both the media and the public focused on this issue.
The ongoing RCMP investigation into the Nigel Wright cheque that was given to Senator Duffy plus the potential for further RCMP involvement into allegations around Senator Wallin, means this story and the Senate scandal have the potential to drag on for many more months. All of which spells negative coverage for the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party.
If charges are laid and court proceedings begin, most of this will occur over the next year or longer. This has the potential to drag the negative coverage out from February 2013 to sometime in late 2014 if not 2015, the next election year. In other words the Senate scandal has the potential to unfold over a somewhat similar time frame to the sponsorship scandal.
The sponsorship scandal helped to cement in the public’s mind that Harper wanted to change the way things were done in Ottawa and that he wanted to do things differently. This is similar to what the present Liberal leader is promising to do and Mulcair is also trying to convey a similar message to the voters. It remains to be seen if either of them can be as successful as Harper was back in 2004-2006.
How Harper handles himself and this issue may just possibly determine the fate of his government when the next election campaign begins. A day is a long time in politics, never mind 21 months or a couple of years, but with this file Harper can’t think short term, he has to keep his eye on the next election as voters have shown him that they can have long memories.
Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails. To sponsor this column please email firstname.lastname@example.org!