For all the time political operatives spend in strategy sessions—developing talking points, going on the attack, helping dimwitted members stay “on message,” it’s perhaps surprising so see how easily this collective wisdom can be thrown into the garbage can by events. Paul Martin in 2003 had a pretty good story to tell. He had balanced Canada’s books, the economy was in good shape and the electorate seemed reasonably content. But events were underway that would conspire to bring Martin down. Six days before he became prime minister, the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party had merged, ending a schism in the political right that had spelt defeat for both parties for more than a decade. Secondly the so-called sponsorship scandal that Martin had inherited from his predecessor was becoming a hot potato. Millions of dollars that was supposed to be used to shore up support for Quebec staying in Canada, instead was diverted to a number of shady public relations firms who were close to the federal government. In many cases nothing was done in return for the money. Although Martin was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing, the party brand was damaged beyond repair. Add to that, there were deep divisions in the Liberal ranks over the way Martin had wrested the leadership from Jean Chretien. When the election was called in 2006 the reinvigorated Tories seized power and cemented it two elections later with a majority government.
Fast forward to today, where the Harper Conservatives have now been in power 7 years. An election is still a good two years away but scandalous events are starting to threaten. Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are accused of ripping off the government with phony travel and accommodation expenses. Both are credited with playing significant roles in fundraising and campaigning prior to the 2011 election that gave Harper his majority. Both have been abandoned by the party they helped elect, and it appears neither of them are going to take the fall without a fight. The irony for Harper is that he has never been a fan of the Senate, and only made the appointments in 2008 after it became obvious that the time was not ripe for either senate reform or abolition. To no one’s surprise Duffy’s lawyer suggests the Senators expense claims were winked at in the PMO as they gratefully arranged campaign events where Duffy’s star power was the draw. It’s way too early to tell whether any of this will resonate in 2015 when Harper may again face the electorate. What is certain though, is that the spin doctors in the PMO will well know what a poison chalice it is to try to outmaneuver two skilled communicators, who know how to assemble documentation; and who now have no reason to continue to carry the can for this government.