Thursday, June 02, 2005

Grewal tapes will make your skin crawl

VICTORIA - I've watched enough crime movies to know that it's time for Ottawa politicians to start scheduling their meetings for grungy steam rooms.
That's the easiest way to make sure that nobody is wearing a wire, right?
The sleaze factor in federal politics keeps climbing. And before anybody in B.C. gets smug, remember that most of the players in the latest cringefest are locals. Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal, his silent MP wife Nina, Ujjal Dosanjh and Sudesh Kalia, the insurance salesman friend of both men, are all locals.
If you haven't been reading this stuff - and I don't blame you - here are the basics.
With the fate of the Martin government resting on a coming non-confidence vote, Grewal, the MP for Newton-North Delta, entered into negotiations with Dosanjh and Paul Martin's chief of staff Tim Murphy. The Grewals would abandon Stephen Harper and support the Liberals, if the terms were right. Perhaps a cabinet post for Gurmant, and the Senate for his wife.
Grewal was secretly taping the conversations, and now says he was running a sting. You can read them and decide what you think Grewal's real goal was. Audio files and transcripts are at
Dosanjh and the Liberals say the transcripts are inaccurate and the tapes doctored.
But a reasonable listener is left with the unavoidable sense that this was sleazy business, and the topic of all the discussions was coming up with an incentive - a cabinet post, or some plum - to ensure the Grewals would support the Liberals.
An immediate seat at the cabinet table would be tough, Dosanjh says in one transcript. "If that cannot happen right now, that will be done in two to four weeks. . . I'm sure rewards are there at some point, right. No-one can forget such gestures but they require a certain degree of deniability."
Deniability is a big deal for the Liberals, or at least the reason they keep using to put off Grewal's demands for a commitment. " You have to be able to say that I did not make a deal," says Dosanjh at one point. "That's very important. That's why this kinds of deals are not made in that fashion."
But people who take risks for the party are rewarded the Liberals promise. "Let me make it absolutely clear that we are a welcoming party. . . It is a welcoming mat that has a lot of nice comfy fur on it."
The Liberals blame Grewal. He showed up on their door, the Liberals say, and wanted to trade his vote for benefits - cabinet, a Senate seat, something of value.
Did they send him packing? No. He negotiated with Dosanjh, and Murphy, who speaks for the Big Guy, Ottawa-speak for Paul Martin. When Grewal asked repeatedly about a Senate seat, Murphy and Dosanjh didn't say sorry, we don't do things like that. They said it would be tough, because there are no vacancies right now.
And then there is Harper, who says he knew Grewal was wandering around wearing a wire. I didn't encourage or discourage him, says Harper. MPs have a right to make secret recordings of people they talk with, the man who would be prime minister.
Every Canadian has that legal right. But it's creepy that a political leader thinks it's acceptable or ethical behavior for an MP.
Martin looks just as bad. He knew about the Grewal negotiations. He knows about the tapes. But he still hasn't got around to listening to the words of his health minister and chief of staff, he says, apparently seized with a case of willful blindness. (And demonstrating again the Liberal devotion to deniability.)
It's unclear if any laws were broken.
But trust was. Voters expect their MPs to act on their behalf. But their interests never really came up in the talks, except as a possible excuse for Grewal to use in bolting the Conservatives.
Footnote: The laws around vote-buying are murky. But everyone involved should welcome an RCMP investigation of the case if they are as blameless as they claim. Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe have both asked for a police review.


Erik Abbink said...

I'm so surprised that there is no law that forbids someone from doing this (changing teams right before an important vote).

I'm also stunned by the fact that Belinda Stronach can just walk over and accept a senior position. Am I the only cynic in Canada thinking that Belinda succeeded in what Grewal was trying to achieve?

And what about ethics? It is clear that B. choose for herself (over the CPC). Any other time would have been acceptable to switch teams, except right before this important vote.

It's all the more clear how people "work themselves up in the party".

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much more foolish all this gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair over the functioning of a minority parliament can become?

Canadians elected a parliament last year that gave no clear governing mandate to any one party but instead gave the Liberals enough seats to work toward a multi-party coalitional type government that would require support from other parties. In other words, MPs other than Liberal's would have to somehow be convinced to vote *for* government initiatives rather than their natural oppositional inclination to vote *against* them.

How does that happen in a system dominated by control freak party whips and loyalty test infested partisan mobs?

It happens by vote bartering which takes many forms. Sometimes in financial tradeoffs for a single constituency much to the frustration of neighbouring constituencies. Sometimes in specific policy implementations like the Pearson/Douglas deal that resulted in our national medical care system.

And sometimes it results in members of one party crossing the floor and joining another. Most often, in these instances, the member doing the floor crossing is rewarded since it makes the act a more attractive option to others. Imagine how desireable crossing the floor would be if a front rank member of one party crossed and was immediately relegated to the silence of the rearmost benches. Imagine how the punditocracy would then blast the leadership of the party being crossed *to* for failing to make good tactical use of the defection.

Minority parliaments are neither pretty nor tidy. But that's what we chose. Get over it.

As to Grewal, his history forces anyone from another party who speaks to him to do so under a heavy advisory. He's simply playing the card he has played multiple times in the past. It's a card with the embossment "I'm such a valuable guy that everyone wants me on their team".

He's an opportunistic, narcissistic, egocentric sleaze who has demonstrated on more than one occasion that his primary interest is to be renowned and he doesn't appear to care what he's renowned for.

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