Ralph’s Revenge

As I mentioned below, I am home in Saskatchewan this week. As a result, I have seen the latest “Parliamentary Update” from my former Member of Parliament (MP), Ralph Goodale. It is, of course, normal that MPs of all stripes deploy these publicly funded “householders” to present themselves and their activities in a positive light. When the Liberals were in power, Goodale used his householders to claim credit for any and every bit of federal spending in Regina.

Goodale’s March householder defends the former Liberal government’s handling of income trusts, which resulted in a criminal charge against a senior Finance official. The banner headline, “Goodale Vindicated,” is followed by a complaint about “14 months of vicious insults and insinuations from both the Conservatives and the NDP.”

This claim of vindication and Goodale’s demands for apologies are baffling since no one ever accused him of any personal wrongdoing. Indeed, as he quite correctly explained at the time: “There is no personal allegation of wrongdoing against me.”

Andrew Coyne brilliantly assesses this episode in the following column, which has not garnered much attention in the “blog-sphere.” As another federal election approaches, it is important to deflate the Liberal myth that the NDP put Harper in power by asking the RCMP to investigate the income-trust episode and bringing the Liberal government down (with the help of independent MPs) a couple of months before Martin had committed to call an election in any case.

For the sake of full disclosure, I was the NDP’s candidate against Goodale in 2004, before income trusts became a political issue.

Monday, February 19, 2007 / National Post
Don’t apologize to Ralph by Andrew Coyne

. . . 

Poor old Ralph Goodale, his face if possible even more mournful than usual, has been trotted out to display his wounds for the press. Yes, it was painful to have his integrity questioned, to be living under a cloud of suspicion all these months. No, it was not pleasant to be the subject of so much insinuation and innuendo, etc.

Oh please. No one to my knowledge has ever alleged that Ralph Goodale was personally involved in any wrongdoing whatever. The Tories came closest, calling him a “blabbermouth” and such, but the suggestion was not connivance but carelessness. The income trust affair should not be used to sully Mr. Goodale’s good name, but neither should his undoubted integrity be used to pretend that nothing happened.

Which, if you’ll recall, is what Mr. Goodale maintained at the time. Budget leaks, as everyone knows, are serious business: ministers of finance have resigned over them in the past, even where no skullduggery was involved. Any decision to change, or not to change, the tax treatment of income trusts was, in view of the attention they had aroused, tantamount to a budget. And there was an election coming.

So even as the evidence mounted that some sort of leak had occurred — the spikes in trading activity in a number of income trusts hours prior to the announcement were too pronounced to ignore — Mr. Goodale insisted that in fact there had been no leak. He’d had a chat with this deputy minister, he said, and had been assured that everything was airtight.

Most crucially, the minister refused to call in the RCMP, in the face of repeated opposition demands and much press commentary. It was left to the NDP to press a complaint, with results that are part of the historical record.

Well, we now know the investigation has resulted in charges being laid. That doesn’t prove the guilt of the accused, but it does suggest that Mr. Goodale’s decision not to call in the RCMP was as misplaced as his confidence in his department. Indeed, questions remain: is it plausible that so much havoc in the markets could have been caused by the activities of a lone civil servant?

And we have known for some time that there was at least one leak, by one very well-placed Liberal: Scott Brison, then the minister of public works, in that notorious email to a friend. So let us have none of this business that the party has been vindicated, or that either it or Mr. Goodale is owed some sort of apology. They botched the announcement, and they made critical errors of judgment in its wake. Had the election not intervened, it is likely that Mr. Goodale would have been forced to resign.

While we’re at it, let’s put to rest this revisionist nonsense that the RCMP, by announcing the investigation when it did, cost the Liberals the election. In the first place, the force’s explanation for why it was obliged to disclose that an inquiry was under way holds water — indeed, it’s one of the few things the Mounties have got right lately. The NDP had formally and publicly called upon the RCMP to investigate. At some point, the decision was made to do so. After that point, the force would either have had to lie, in response to press inquiries, or say “no comment,” which would have amounted to confirmation. As if the presence of RCMP officers on Bay Street would not have done the same.

Turning point? Hardly. The Tory surge in the polls had started in the second week of December, and really began to pick up after the first debate, consolidating these gains over the Christmas break: all before the NDP released its letter from the commissioner. The primary effect of the RCMP’s “intervention” was to send the Martin campaign into a week-long funk of inactivity. That probably cost the Liberals much more.

That, and the disastrous decision not to call in the force themselves. The income trust affair never would have had the impact it did had Mr. Goodale not tried to bluff his way through it.

For the full column, click here.

One comment

  • Great post Erin. Spin is always the name of the game, when politicians believe it is spin that win elections, and politics is sport’s ethics at its worst.

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