Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Your scandal is bigger than my scandal
Allegations of misconduct abound in federal politics right now. We've got the "robocall" scandal, where opposition parties believe the ruling Conservatives sent out fraudulent and misleading automated phone messages to NDP and Liberal voters to discourage them from voting. On the other side of the House of Commons, it's "@Vikileaks," where Tories are howling for more information about the Liberal political staffer who has taken responsibility for revealing intimate details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toew's divorce file via Twitter.
Do we dare suggest they both doth protest too much? It's a marvellous, hideous convergence of technology, politics and partisanism the likes of which we have never seen. But what's it all about, Viki? Is it really fair to compare the two scandals?
It's safe to say, as many commentators have already, that both the opposition and government sides are trying to use their own protests about what the other party has done to divert attention away from what they may have done. Get uppity about fraudulent robocalls, and you're likely to hear a chorus of "shame" from the government benches asking for more Liberals to fess up to being involved in @Vikileaks. Harp on @Vikileaks, and you're going to get a face wash of robocalls. As certain as Liberals are that Tories deliberately tried to suppress Grit and NDP voter turnout, so too are Conservatives confident that the staffer was used as a fall guy, and the decision to publish Toews' divorce file was made by people higher up the Liberal hierarchy.
Is it fair to compare the two? At first blush, (if substantiated) robocall certainly seems to be a much bigger deal than @Vikileaks. The former describes a deliberate attempt to undermine an election. In that regard, robocalls would be no different in magnitude than say the 1995 vote-splitting scandal in Manitoba. @Vikileaks, on the other hand, is pretty salacious stuff but it's hardly an affront to democracy. An ethically questionable act but if you look at the kind of full disclosure on the private lives of politicians that occurs in the United States, this was pretty tame stuff. The fact that a Liberal employee was the agent of dissemination is more of an embarrassment than fodder for a public inquiry.
Supporters of Toews, along with Toews himself, will howl that anyone would make any kind of distinction between the two. The fact that many Tories cannot see any distinction is essentially the kind of all-or-nothing attitude that led to a Liberal staffer to make the poor decision to release Toews' divorce file.
Let's be clear about one thing - the Liberals did not dig into Toews divorce AFTER he made his infamous allegations that anyone that opposed C-30, the bill that would give police greater powers to identify internet users without warrants, was aiding pedophiles. They had the information already, having snooped through the file like many other politicos and journalists. The Free Press did it's own snooping, and even produced a decent story out of what we found. In this case, it was correspondence between Toews and his lawyer confirming that he had not declared to the Ethics Commissioner's Office the fact he is receiving a pension from the Manitoba government. Toews office claimed the omission was an oversight, but the omission was only remedied AFTER our story appeared.
Other than that, there was a lot of dirty stuff in the divorce file that was consistent with the kind of things you would find in any divorce file that was as drawn out and bitter as this one was. The documents were all on the public record. Did the public have a right to know all these details? No, but if there is a lesson to be learned from this story, it this: if you're a famous person with something to lose, it would be better to settle divorces quickly. As a corollary, don't act as your own lawyer in the proceedings. I'm just saying.
In the final analysis, as ethically challenged as the @Vikileaks campaign was, it just doesn't compare with the magnitude of the robocall allegations. Should those allegations turn out to be fallacious, then we'll have fodder for a future comparative analysis. For now, it's not really a fair fight.
One last point. @Vikileaks claimed it was doing what it was doing because of Toews' inflammatory and partisan allegations that anyone who opposes Tory crime legislation sides with the criminals. Specifically, that anyone that opposes his internet snooping bill supports pedophiles. Toews, and other Tories, have consistently denied the opposition any chance to oppose any one part of any Tory bill. If you're against any part of our crime legislation, then you're clearly in favor of criminals. It's an immature tack to take in a political debate and although it would be wrong to say that Vic brought @Vikileaks on himself, it would have been nice to see that he learned a lesson from that whole humiliating experience.
Not a chance.
On February 29, Toews tweeted the following observation about Grit and NDP opposition to the federal government's omnibus crime bill:
"Unbelievably, NDP and Liberals oppose tougher sentences for those who kidnap children."
Clearly, Toews must think that there's nothing embarrassing left in that divorce file. For his sake, let's hope he's right.
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About Dan Lett
Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.
Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.
In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.
He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.
In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.
Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.
Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.
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