Friday, December 07, 2007

Greasing the Political Wheels

There is little to recommend Karlheinz Schreiber. It is not difficult to understand why, when John Crosbie and Peter Lougheed were asked to meet with him, they turned down the invitation. Self promotion is nothing new; but Mr. Schreiber appears to have been on the make for a long time -- and he is unapologetic about it. Moreover, the only truly credible piece of information he has offered the House Ethics Committee is his own assertion that he "was born ugly, not stupid."

Still, before we send him back to Germany -- where the mess he is in seems, ironically, as putrid as the mess he finds himself in here -- we should hear his tale, as convoluted and as incredible as it may be. And, as the House Committee and the public inquiry heed Mark Felt's advice to "follow the money," Canadians need to ask themselves if, indeed, they have been stupid.

Lawrence Martin, in The Globe and Mail, points out that the real "outrage" in the midst of all the noise surrounding Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney, is how Schrieber and his associates helped engineer the campaign to dump Conservative Party leader Joe Clark -- which paved the way for Mr. Mulroney's ascension to power. "Back in 1983," Martin writes, "when backers of Brian Mulroney were leading a campaign to unseat Joe Clark as party leader, Tory strategist Dalton Camp noted how something strange and alarming was going on." Camp claimed that "'foreign money' was fueling the anti-Clark drive. It was a grave allegation -- foreign interests hijacking the Canadian political process. But he offered no proof."

Mr. Schreiber does not inspire confidence. But, if he is credible on this point, we now have the proof. According to Martin, "Walter Wolf, an Austrian, and Mr. Schreiber, a German, secretly funded the dump Clark campaign to the tune of estimates that run to the hundreds of thousands. Then Bavarian premier Franz Joseph Strauss was orchestrating the drive, and also may have helped bankroll it. Mr. Wolf and Mr. Strauss detested Mr. Clark's moderate brand of conservatism. They wanted him out, and with their plotting, they succeeded. Few words in protest were heard then -- or since."

No one should be shocked to discover that money greases the wheels of politics. Sir Hugh Allan donated large sums to John A. Macdonald's Conservatives, hoping that he could buy a controlling interest in the new Pacific Railway. And, as the Gomery Commission discovered, Jean Chretien's Liberals rewarded Quebec advertising agencies with large contracts, on the understanding that a significant portion of that money would find its way back to party coffers. Mr. Mulroney stands in a long line of Canadian Prime Ministers who have known how to use money to accomplish their political goals. If Schreiber's claims -- and what Martin reports -- are true, Mr. Mulroney's sound and fury about John Turner agreeing to the appointments PierreTrudeau made before he left office qualify as comic relief.

Some will say that all of this is simply more of the same. But, in the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, there are differences. Those differences are the source and the amount of the money. It is not news that politicians can be bought and sold. But who is doing the buying and selling has always been important. Mr. Schreiber seems to offer Canadians a take on one of their Prime Ministers which -- like several others -- is far from flattering. However, it is not enough to take comfort from the fact that the people eventually sent him and his party -- at least temporarily -- into oblivion. The question is, were they had? And, if so, how do they ensure that it will not happen again?

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