Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Sources

There was sound and fury in Ottawa last week, as the opposition parties and the press tried to uncover the sagas of Helena Guergis and Afghan prisoners of war. The sagas were based on the testimony of two very different sources. The charges against Guergis came from a private investigator named Derrick Snowdy, who is -- The Globe and Mail reported -- "a flamboyant character who [drives] a Porche 911 Turbo" and is $13 million in debt. The charges of prisoner abuse came (again) from Richard Colvin, a career Canadian diplomat, who was posted to Afghanistan and is now stationed at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

When Snowdy brought his information to Arthur Hamilton, a Toronto lawyer and member of the Conservative Party, it went immediately up the chain of command, directly to the prime minister, who characterized the information as "serious and credible."

Colvin, on the other hand, experienced repeated road blocks when trying to reach those at the top of the government pyramid -- even though soldiers in the field were complaining that, as Provost Marshall Captain Steve Moore wrote on February 27, 2008, "There is a disturbing tendency to keep information within and to resist MP [Military Police] advice and oversight."

On the one hand, there was immediate action on information which some might have questioned as less than reliable. On the other, there were repeated attempts -- from those at the top -- to remain blissfully ignorant, even though the source in the past had been deemed unimpeachable.

If there is a common thread that ties these starkly different stories together, it is the government's attempt to sit on the information surrounding each case. The information which Snowdy provided the prime minister was ferreted out by the press. The unredacted files on the transfer of Afghan prisoners remain under lock and key -- even though Alain Prefontaine, the government lawyer appearing before the Military Police Complaints Commission, admitted having seen the files, a privilege the commission itself has been denied.

How did we come to such an impasse? Murray Dobbins wrote this week that "it could not have happened except for the broader context of a corrupted democracy:

For twenty years we have witnessed the inexorable transformation of government, from one that really did base itself on moral imperatives, democratic principles and political integrity (for the most part) to the corporate model of governance. We are not a country anymore, we are an economy; we are not citizens, we are clients; public services are not the things we do together for each other, they are products (the easier to privatize them.)

The goal of economic man is self preservation. Ms. Geurgis, the government and the prime minister share the same goal. Any attempt to get at the truth behind both stories is a threat to self preservation. Mr. Snowdy is essential to Mr. Harper's political survival. Mr. Colvin is a threat to his survival. It should come as no surprise that both men have been treated so differently.


True Blue said...

You're adept at construing the events of the real world through the filter of fiction and laying out your analysis for your readers' consumption. "Compelling" is how I think most of your readers would describe what you do.

Those are some of the reasons I enjoy your blog. But don't assume that I agree with you because of your way with words, Mister Gray. Your consistent bias against Mister Harper gets in my way.

In this week's posting, you've done it again - established an interesting literary context for the Conservative's political mess with a simple five-word title, "A Tale of Two Sources". It's a catchy title which happens to fit in more ways than one.

It does appear that for our political parties it could be "the best of times" and "the worst of times"; the "season of Darkness", and "the spring of hope". Will the Government go down to defeat because of Mister Harper's stubborn adherence to his "cone of silence"? Will the Opposition be victorious because of their virginal search for truth, their moral superiority?

No lesser an authority than Frank Grover, president of EKOS Research, recently mused that "this could be a real turning point" for the Conservatives. For them, he implies, the abyss is yawning. I'm yawning too.

Not everybody believes in Mister Harper's demise, or that his predicament is a close approximation of the Liberal's corruption scandal which forced them out of office under Paul Martin. Hamish Marshall of Angus Reid Opinion Poll, for example, sees no indication that public support for Mister Harper has fallen off, and he claims the Opposition has made no gains against the Conservatives.

I see no reason for alarm, regardless of how many Liberal sympathizers might wish to see Mister Harper forced out of power.

What can Liberals offer Canadians that Conservatives can't? Economic recovery? We're doing fine so far, better than any other country in the G8. Promises for more social programmes? Words are cheap. Leadership? Don't make me laugh!

In his position as Prime Minister of a minority government which has been clinging to power for an astonishingly long time, why shouldn't Mister Harper do everything possible to keep his party in power? Do you think any prime minister worth his salt would not, or has not, done the same?

What`s the rush to accuse Mister Harper of behaving in an undemocratic way, or that he is somehow subverting our great Canadian parliamentary tradition because of two botched attempts at damage control?

Let's at least wait until we know what our Prime Minister has been hiding before we condemn him to perdition for hiding it. Surely that's the just thing to do. Right?

Owen Gray said...

I've read the same poll results; and they do, indeed, suggest that the Liberals are not offering a credible alternative to Mr. Harper.

And, truth be told, the Liberals under both Jean Chretien and Paul Martin implemented the same corporate agenda, minus the patina of righteousness that Mr. Harper and his confreres occasionally display. Moreover, one should not forget that it was Chretien who shut down the Somalia inquiry.

Nonetheless, this is a Prime Minister who promised that his government would be accountable. His insistence now that he and his party are not responsible to Parliament is pure hypocrisy. The fact that other prime ministers have also tried to avoid parliamentary oversight in no way ameliorates the present situation.

You're right to conclude that I have a consistent bias against Mr. Harper. But, at the moment, I carry no brief for the Liberals, either. And Mr. Layton has twisted himself into a philosophical pretzel to support the Conservatives.

Does that make me a political nihilist? I hope not. I continue to believe that government can improve peoples' lives without facilitating greater social inequality.

Our present malaise, I think, has a lot to do with willful ignorance. It is willful ignorance which has stuck in my craw.

thwap said...

Perhaps harper's immorality is reason enough to toss him in prison.

Owen Gray said...

No doubt there are those who would cheer that outcome. But that is not what we do to our politicians.

The worst punishment used to be making a national figure the target of the chicken cannon on The Royal Canadian Air Farce. Rick Mercer has now stepped into that breech.

We refuse to mythologize our leaders.

CLR said...

I followed your link to Murray Dobbin's article, and was disappointed with the quality of his reasoning. Canadians, he asserts without proof, ruined themselves with the Free Trade Agreement. We have been reduced from a country to an economy (what does that mean?). Except as economic cyphers, for the past twenty years Canadian citizens have little or no value to their governments(my interpretation of Dobbin's overall conclusion).

Mister Dobbins is indulging himself with a darkly glittering scenario designed to entertain the sorts of minds which revel in prophesies about the Ends of Times.

Chicken Little would have been proud of him!

Owen Gray said...

My reading of Dobbins is not that the sky is falling. He's simply saying that the notion that government should be run like a business is bad for government.

And the last couple of years have proved that what -- until recently -- has been the conventional wisdom about the way to run a business is not good for business, either.

John Kenneth Galbraith took great pleasure in puncturing the "conventional wisdom" of his day. Such wisdom, he said, led to "private wealth and public squalor." Government policies over the last twenty years have led to just such an outcome.

Dobbins is echoing Galbraith.

Gaianicity said...

True Blue sees "no reason for alarm".

When we have a Prime Minister and his senior Cabinet ministers including top military officers who could face war crimes charges, I do.

I assume rank and file conservatives do not favor torture.

At the moment the Liberals, the NDP the Block or the Greens (along with the rest of the civilized world) do not advocate torture of prisoners.

Has True Blue inside information about a change in conservative policy?

Owen Gray said...

I cannot speak for True Blue. But one of the unfortunate consequences of the Jaffer-Guergis affair is that is has diverted public attention from the Afghan file.

I imagine that Mr. Harper is not enjoying the diversion. But the truth is that the present soap opera has accomplished what Mr. Harper's suspension of Parliament failed to do.