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Can Canada's teflon Liberal Party strike back?

By Jackson Murphy
web posted February 16, 2004

If it weren't for a prominent and peculiarly dressed hockey commentator named "Grapes" and a cigar chomping plastic comic dog named "Triumph" that have sucked up valuable headlines, the scandal in Ottawa last week might have truly reached epic proportions. While it may not have eclipsed the media frenzy over Janet Jackson's Super Bowl flashing, the new whispers of scandal in Canada may actually have some legs this time.

The only question is whether this scandal is really going to stick to the Teflon Liberal Party of Canada this time? Why this scandal? Why now?

This time the figure is comparatively low. The estimate is that $100 million of federal funds, which was part of a larger $250 million sponsorship program meant to raise the governments profile in Quebec after the 1995 referendum, went to Liberal friendly and Quebec based communications companies.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has had a week anyone would want to forget
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has had a week anyone would want to forget

To put this into perspective, the $100 million is only 100 times more than the government doled out to bring American late night television show host Conan O'Brien to Toronto for a week. And perhaps that was some sort of ploy by Prime Minister Paul Martin to move his woes from page one.

It is only 20 times more than the government overspent thanks to the freewheeling "Queen of Canada" Adrienne Clarkson. Her $5.3 million state visit to Russia, Finland, and Iceland with 59 members of the cultural community was originally reported to cost only $1.5 million. To be fair the media was wrong on the original cost. It was supposed to have cost $4.5 million, so technically they only overspent by $800,000. Again, compare that to the $1 million for puppet dogs insulting Quebec and it's actually a bargain.

Again this paltry sum pales in comparison to the $2 billion that has been squandered by the current Liberal government on a gun registration program originally estimated to cost only $1 million. Most of this money was spent on a computer system designed to track guns that still doesn't completely work. I don't need a $2 billion computer to help me figure that math out.

People are now beginning to smell blood in the water and express suitable outrage. But where were they the last decade? The Vancouver Sun's Pete McMartin explains, "Eastern voters winked at a billion wasted dollars in Public Works, a billion wasted dollars on a gun registry, and Jean Chretien's shenanigans in Shawinigan, and still voted Liberal. They abided waste and trough-feeding that would make a Baath party operative blush, but they cringed at the prospect of, horrors, a leader of the Opposition who was so cornball as to be pro-life."

As McMartin sees it, this isn't a scandal at all. This is Canadian politics.

But will that translate into electoral gold for the new Conservative Party or the rejuvenated New Democratic Party? That's a tough one. But let's try throwing a "Star Wars" movie analogy at this to see where we are.

If this scandal does indeed have legs we are either at two places in the "Star Wars" storyline. First we could be at the end of Episode IV. The original Death Star has been blown up and the Rebel Alliance is celebrating and handing out medals. Translation: The Liberal Death Star has been blown up, the only problem, that we cannot now forget, is that after this is the "Empire Strikes Back." So we would be looking at yet another term of Liberal Government as they use the Jedi mind trick and say, "these aren't the scandals you are looking for."

The Second spot in the world of "Star Wars" that might make sense is the end of "Return of the Jedi" where the Rebels blow up the second Death Star and celebrate in the forests of Endor with the Ewoks triumphant over the evil Empire. Translation: The Liberal Death Star is blown up for real this, the Empire is finished, and the Conservative Party forms a new government after the next election. For some this could be about as believable as a story from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.

The reality is that the Liberals for the first time in a long while look vulnerable. The first glimpse of this was the polling numbers showing a 9 per cent drop in the national polls since January in the days following the Auditor General's report. That is significant.

But the proof will be in the voting. Are Canadians are really ready to trust another party or another leader with the ship of state. In the past two elections the choice was obvious; the people didn't have the confidence that anyone could do a better job than the Liberals. Scandal or not, that case still has to made by the new Conservative Party or the New Democrats.

Will the Liberal Party strike back or will they go down in defeat? Time will tell.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right, a columnist for Bureacrash.ca and a regular contributor to American Daily.com, Men's News Daily, and The Reality Check. He is also the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.

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