There are at least three varieties of political scandals – real scandals, maybe (or maybe not) scandals and faux scandals.
In the category of real scandals, I would put the Sponsorship scandal in which an estimated $100 million in taxpayer money disappeared to into the bank accounts of friends and supporters of Jean Chrétien’s Liberals. Another real scandal was the Airbus affair in which former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney secretly accepted $300,000 in cash from Karlheinz Schreiber, the Airbus lobbyist.
In the maybe/maybe not category, there is the brouhaha in Washington over allegations that Russians hackers tried to subvert last year’s presidential election, with a view electing Donald Trump. We don’t yet know with certainty whether the allegations are true. If they are, it is a real scandal. If investigators find a smoking gun – evidence that Trump condoned the Russian activity – it becomes a huge scandal, on the scale of Watergate.
The third kind, the faux scandal, consists of much sound and fury and excited media coverage, with little or nothing to underpin it.
Ottawa in recent weeks has produced one real scandal and one that is, in my opinion, a faux scandal.
The real scandal involves Senator Don Meredith, the horny pastor from Richmond Hill, Ont., who, under investigation by the Senate ethics committee, admitted a two-year sexual relationship with a teenaged girl, beginning before she was 18. Although Meredith offered to accept a two-year suspension, the committee found him “unfit to serve as a senator” and recommended that the full Senate expel him from its ranks.
Historically, the Senate has turned a blind eye to the private behaviour of its members. But the red chamber is under increasing pressure to set its house in order. If it doesn’t give Meredith the boot, it will have no credibility left.
The faux scandal concerns Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who is accused by the opposition parties of lying about his role in Operation Medusa, a Canadian operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2006. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, among others, has demanded Sajjan’s resignation.
Not so fast! In 2006, Sajjan, a former undercover drug cop from Vancouver, was a lieutenant-colonel and intelligence officer with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. On two occasions, the first in a 2015 interview, he described himself “the architect” of Operation Medusa. I’m not sure what it means to be the architect of a military operation, but it appears probable that Sajjan overstated his role.
If so, he would not be the first (or last) MP or candidate to exaggerate his or her importance. How many times have you heard a speech or read a political brochure in which the author is brutally candid?
Full disclosure would go something like this: “To be honest, I have not accomplished as much as I had hoped in my four years as your representative. I have gone to caucus, to committee and to lunch. On several occasions, three to be exact, I have asked questions in Question Period. The questions were given to me by our whip and I do not recall what, if anything, the ministers replied. At present, I am hoping for a seat on a committee junket to Europe. Asia would also be nice.
Of course, I am being grossly unfair to the vast majority of MPs who do work hard – just as opposition MPs are being unfair to Sajjan. He played a significant role in Afghanistan, specifically in Operation Medusa.
Here is part of what his commanding officer, Brig. Gen. David Fraser had to say: “[Sajjan is] one of the most remarkable people I have worked with. … He was the best single Canadian intelligence asset in theatre. He personally fused broad sources of information into an extremely coherent picture upon which most of the formation’s major operations were based."
Fusing “broad sources of information into an extremely coherent picture” may not be architecture in military parlance, but it sounds darned important to this layman