Friday, April 13, 2007

The Daniel Paillé affair

Here's a Toronto Star editorial on the Daniel Paillé affair. He, of course, is the separatist hired by the Harper Conservatives to investigate his arch-enemies from the 1995 referendum.

He served in former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau's Parti Québécois cabinet from 1994 to 1996, and played his part in the referendum to break up Canada. He still harbours warm thoughts for his mentor. Just last year, in a speech honouring Parizeau, Paillé recalled a "very appropriate" challenge Parizeau made to separatists after they lost the referendum, to "turn over every stone" to strengthen their case for secession. This week, however, he declined to say if he still shares the dream.

Given Paillé's background, what confidence can Canadians have in his even-handedness in judging whether Canada's federal leaders behaved properly from 1990 to 2003 when they surveyed attitudes in Quebec and elsewhere? Poll spending rose to $24 million during this period, which covers the last few years of Conservative rule by Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell, and a decade under Liberals Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

Is there much evidence of Ottawa wrongdoing to worry about?

In 2003, Auditor General Sheila Fraser found that "for the most part" Ottawa acted "in a transparent manner and with adequate controls." She found only "a small number of troubling cases" involving polling. Even so, the Tories remain eager to probe beyond the sponsorship scandal in which cash was improperly funnelled to Liberal-friendly ad firms.

Clearly, Harper feels the time is right to dig deeper, hoping to shame the Liberals even as they try to put the sponsorship scandal behind them. For his part, Paillé bristles at any suggestion he has been hired to dig for dirt.

But in 1995, the PQ complained bitterly that the Liberals cheated them of a referendum victory, partly by outspending them. Given this bad blood, the Liberals understandably place little faith in Paillé's pledge to operate in a "professional" spirit and to deliver an even-handed report.

This, of course, is not to suggest that the Liberal reign was stainless. It certainly was not. However, this blog is not about the Liberals, it is about the Harper Conservatives. The purpose of the post is essentially to show that Harper is capable of political opportunism just as blatant and decision-making just as ubious as anyone he criticizes.