(Host) Political crises come and go, but commentator Jules Older is on to one that won’t go. This one’s not in Washington, it’s in Ottawa.
(Older) As Americans, we are so used to our own government scandals, it’s sometimes hard to picture them besetting our neighbors to the north. And, indeed, Canadian scandals are generally less exciting. A lazy health inspector here, a politician on the take there. But by and large, Canada seems ever green and clean. At least compared to us.
Until now. Now, O Canada is embroiled in a scandal that’s threatening to bring down the government. And it’s as richly layered as a wedding cake.
Several months ago, the prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party stepped down. Stepped or pushed, it’s hard to say, but Jean Chretien retired after years in office. He was succeeded as prime minister by his one-time heir-apparent, Paul Martin. One-time because a few years ago, the two had a falling out, and Cretien summarily dismissed Martin as minister of finance.
But now, mon ami, the shoe is on the other foot. Martin’s government has discovered that Cretien’s government had run what CBC commentators are describing as a “classic money-laundering scheme.” It allowed several Quebec advertising firms to grow unconscionably rich on taxpayer dollars in exchange for – for virtually nothing. Their only function was to pass a check from one government bureau to another, and for this they were paid millions in public money. How many millions? Let’s say 100, give or take a mil or two.
One of the last acts Chretien performed before leaving office was to deal with the politician at the center of the give-away, the minister of public works. He appointed him ambassador to Denmark. Hamlet was right.
Now, the new prime minister, Paul Martin, has fired the ambassador, and he regularly denounces his predecessor’s actions. But the more he denounces, the more the wrath of the people falls on his head. Remember, Cretien and Martin are in the same political party, and at the time of the shenanigans, Martin was still the minister of finance. That’s the guy who oversees where the tax money goes.
The result? The Liberals’ popularity is in free fall. CBC commentators are using phrases like “blood-letting,” “staunching the flow” and “hemorrhaging.”
And as the Liberals fall from grace, the once-moribund and fractious Conservatives are, to their utter astonishment, growing in popularity. They cannot believe their good fortune.
Already, high-level government officials have been sacked. Other heads will roll. Will Paul Martin’s be among them? And will Mr. Cretien spend his golden years in courtrooms or, just maybe, as some predict, in jail? The Mounties are now investigating what, if any, laws have been broken.
And what motivates Mr. Martin? Is it the search for justice? The pressing need to distance himself from his former boss? Or, as he watches his predecessors ever-growing public disgrace, is he thinking, “Payback!” Stay tuned, my fellow Americans. This is one northern soap opera you don’t want to miss.
This is Jules Older in Albany, Vermont, the Soul of the Kingdom.
For extensive coverage of the ongoing Canadian scandal, including a timeline, go to www.cbc.ca.
Jules Older is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults.