Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Schreiber-Mulroney inquiry: it could backfire on the Liberals

I don't think that Stephen Harper's flip-flop on holding an investigation in the Schreiber-Mulroney affair did the Conservatives any good.

But when I look at the dymanics of the situation, I think this could blow up in the Liberals' face.

We have solid reason to doubt Karlheinz Schreiber's credibility. Yes, he did sign a legal affadavit making the charges. However, he is wanted on bribery, fraud and tax evasion charges in Germany. He is perceived to have orchestrated this new episode of allegations to prevent his extradition into his native country. He may or may not be innocent, but where there's smoke, there's fire. It all looks fairly shady from afar. It seems to be a ploy to avoid facing charges in Germany.

Brian Mulroney? Sure, he had the reputation of being "lyin' Brian". But so far he has won a court case clearing his name in the Airbus scandal. He is also anxious to give his side of the story. He does not look like a man who has something to hide. He has always been more than willing to go public with his defense.

The Opposition parties-- especially the Liberals-- are hoping that something of this scandal will stick.

But I think this will probably turn out badly for the Liberals.

First off, even if Mulroney is guilty of some unethical behaviour-- this was fifteen years ago. The sums of money involved are relatively small. The issue is lobbying by a former politician so soon after leaving office.

I think it's hard for the average voter to get excited about this. Mulroney was, for all intents and purposes, not the Prime Minister any more. Does it make it legally or morally acceptable? No. But legal and moral acceptability do not necessarily affect public perception and their voting intentions. I doubt the public will get very excited about this or change their vote.

Secondly, Stephen Harper was in another party and had nothing to do with it. This was not a party-wide scandal. This was the poor judgment of a few individuals at most.

Thirdly, even if Harper did know about this, given the source, so what? Karlheinz Schreiber's credibility is easily questionable.

If Mulroney's side of the story is upheld, then the Liberals will really suffer. They will look like that they called this inquirty purely for partisan reasons, as a kind of payback for the Gomery inquiry.

It will look like a lame attempt to smear a man in order to shore up Stephane Dion and the Liberals' sagging fortunes.

Stephen Harper's decision to hold the inquiry may not be the political error that some seem to think it is. It may actually have been very shrewd.

RELATED: Small Dead Animals has a really good post on the "Airbus Hoax".

RELATED A Don Martin column posted at Free Dominion (I like this format better).


The Liberals might want to keep the corks in the champagne bottles though. While the inquiry ends the threat of a Conservative-provoked election until the probe wraps up a year or so from now, the Grits are not without sin in the scandal.

Mulroney is salivating at the thought of getting former prime minister Jean Chretien and former justice minister Allan Rock on the witness stand. He's got a score to settle from the infamous RCMP letter sent to Swiss authorities on the Liberals' watch. The letter suggested Mulroney was guilty of bribe-taking and formed the basis for his libel suit.

And while the ghost of Mulroney might seem like a gift from heaven for an official Opposition without any blood-drawing attacks on this government during question period, the inquiry's startup will leave few openings for ongoing kill shots.

But champagne will flow in the law firms of Ottawa as managing partners start anticipating intervenor status for a multitude of potential clients with their billable hours covered by the government.

MORE INFO: From Licia Corbella:

While it's not illegal for former politicians to take money once they leave office as Mulroney did in accepting $300,000 to lobby on behalf of a firm Schreiber -- who faces extradition from Canada to Germany -- was working for, the issue here is whether or not Chretien's government would have awarded Mulroney a $2.1 million libel settlement and apology for associating Mulroney to a criminal investigation linked to Schreiber, had they known about the payment.

If that's the issue, I really doubt the public will be very excited about this.