Wednesday, August 16, 2006
This B.C. scandal has all the earmarks of the Customs Scandal of 1925 which almost unseated Prime Minister Mackenzie King
LARRY ZOLF: Guilt by association CBC News Viewpoint January 5, 2004
"Targets of Raids had Ties to Martin" said the big and bold front page headline in The Globe and Mail.
The story went on to say that two B.C. ministerial assistants who are "of interest to the RCMP were organizers in British Columbia's Indo-Canadian community for Mr. Martin's successful leadership bid." David Basi, "a key ministerial aide and friend of B.C. Finance Minister Gary Collins" has been fired. The second aide, Bob Virk, is a suspended assistant to B.C. Transportation Minister Judith Reid. The recent RCMP raid on the B.C. legislature and several other offices is a spillover of a 20-month drug-dealing and money-laundering investigation.
The Globe story's linkage to Paul Martin is that the two aides were involved with Mark Marissen, Martin's campaign director in B.C. Marissen's wife, Christy Clark, is deputy premier and education minister in the Liberal B.C. government.
Federal Environment Minister David Anderson "at one time or another employed most of these people," including Marissen and Erik Bornman. Bornman, a lobbyist, and Martin's "chief B.C. leadership organizer," is affectionately known as Spiderman for his "attempt several years ago to get into the B.C. Liberal party's locked membership offices through its ceiling panels." Bornman and Marissen were "also visited by the police."
Another Globe headline, "Drug Raids Highlight B.C. Political Links" is over a spider web of pictures of leading B.C. and Ottawa Liberals. Prominently displayed are the PM and David Anderson. Scott Reid, Martin's senior advisor, said: "Paul Martin will not suspend senior election campaign aides and other key supporters who have been caught up in a criminal investigation in a drug trafficking and money laundering scheme." The RCMP has contacted no one in Martin's office and Reid said the scandal obviously deals with "provincial matters."
This whole affair is reaching for Paul Martin in much the same way as the Customs Scandal of 1925 pulled at Mackenzie King. That was "the worst scandal in the Party's history" said historian Bruce Hutchison. "It (the Customs Scandal) accused Jacques Bureau, the Customs minister, of gross dereliction, the government of connivance with criminals, the Liberal party of debauchery. "Officials were guilty of condoning and assisting a ring of smugglers from coast to coast. The government on Bureau's advice had modified or quashed the sentences of criminals convicted in the courts. Liberal hangers-on were fattening on contraband, mostly liquor which flowed in swelling cataracts north and south across the American border."
Soon smugglers like Daivy Weisberg and Moses Aziz, and customs and immigration inspector J.G.A Bisaillon were "at the centre of the Customs Scandal" and were in the headlines of the day, household words across the nation. King took full responsibility for the Customs Scandal and cheekily put the guilty minister in the Senate and out of harm's way. But King and his ministry had not connived with the underworld. And though Martin has certainly not connived with the underworld, he is now being charged with a similar guilt by association.
A National Post headline reads: "Paul Martin refuses to suspend aides in B.C. Scandal. Provincial matters."
Chuck Strahl, the Alliance MP, was struck by the calmness with which the Martin team was greeting all this. "I can't believe he would say these are police raids on several of my key folks in B.C. but it doesn't really matter, and saying, you know, it is just a provincial matter. I mean, there is a criminal investigation going on here." True enough, but so far there is only guilt by association, that political disease that has sometimes proved deadly.
But there is something fishy going on out there and Martin may find himself broadsided by it. There is no win-win in the B.C. mess for Paul Martin. He can stick by his aides in B.C. and be seen as Premier Gordon Campbell is being seen, as if there's really nothing in all this to disturb his vacation. Martin may simply be sitting tight because the Mounties have not asked him or his office any questions about the B.C. scandal. If there are no more developments in the situation, this strategy could work well for Martin. Martin is on holiday at his Quebec retreat and nobody in the press has tried to get to him. Scott Reid is doing nicely but the PM would be foolish to expose himself to any scrums with the paparazzi.
Martin needs a media strategy for the B.C. scandal because the bits and pieces are coming out slowly. The public appetite for wanting to know more is growing day by day.
Meanwhile, this B.C. scandal has all the earmarks of King's Customs Scandal. Perhaps the Mounties will find politicos who have been dealing in drugs and laundering money. When that happens, the guilt by association, the media's nibbling away at Martin's integrity, will finally come to an end. Perhaps Martin will come out not only unblemished but better for having undergone this whole sordid experience.
I wonder. Paul Martin seems to have faded quietly into the sunset. Considering his passionate battle to become prime minister, it's hard to imagine how he could have changed so much, so quickly.