Saturday, December 10, 2005

Good Fortune, Good Strategy or Good Advice?

The spotlight of possible scandal shone briefly once again on the Paul Martin government this week and in the midst of an election campaign, that would make for an unwanted passenger on the Martin campaign trail.

An announcement on November 23rd, that the federal government was not going to change its handling of income trusts and instead would enhance the tax credit on corporate dividends has caused a bit of controversy as the campaign gets fully underway.

What’s up for debate is whether some inside information out of the Finance Ministers office, helped to make a few people make their investment strategies pay off in ways that many find suspicious.

Bloggerland has been full of conspiracy theories that point the finger towards the Liberals, who are busy trying to extricate themselves from the shadow of the sponsorship scandal. To have a new bit of trouble pop up right now, is not something your local Liberal candidate would want to be taking door to door.

It’s a right wing feeding frenzy at the moment, basically limited to a few newspaper columnists and the blogging fanatics who first dug up some of the material that has led to all the questions. The M K Braaten site seems to have done the most research on the issue, going so far as to give a shout out to the Prime Minister’s own personal physician.

It seems that in the hours running up to the official announcement of Goodale’s plans some of those income trusts and dividend paying stocks experienced heavier than usual trading as the Finance Minister prepared to make his statement. This has given many a rather nervous feeling that somebody got a heads up.

Making matters worse for the Liberals was the story on Wednesday, that the Director of Government and Media relations for CARP, Canada’s lobby group for those over the age of fifty, had received advance notice of the announcement to come later that day. If he was getting a heads up, the story goes, how many other folks received advance notice and perhaps acted less than ethically in their pursuit of fortune.

That ink had barely dried, when the retractions came from CARP, as the director Bill Gleberzon said he had misspoken the day previously and had not been notified early. His contradictary comments have put him into the middle of the debate, as everyone tries to piece together the happenings prior to the Goodale announcement.

Things went from bad to worse for the Liberals though, as word got out that a member of Goddale's staff had contacted Mr. Gleberzon to try and help out with the details. As the storm began to build it seems that Goodale’s communication director, John Embury decided to do some damage control and contacted the press, describing Mr. Gleberzon as being old and confused and making an error. Embury quickly apologized for his affront to all those over fifty, but they probably didn’t send Ralph to any seniors homes that day! All in all not a great optical moment for the Goodale or the Martin campaigns.

As the situation continues to fester, the calls for the resignation of the Finance Minister continue to multiply, as do the suggestions that the Liberals haven’t learned anything from the Gomery commission and the fall out of the advertising scandal.

So far the controversy has stayed off the electoral radar, not really affecting the Liberals current lead in the polls. The decision for the Conservatives is whether to dedicate some of their valuable election campaign time to this potential scandal, and making it a major issue of the campaign, or do they stick with their game plan designed prior to the situation coming to light.

With mixed messages coming out about the statement, its timing and the effect it had on the income trust sector, it may be a hard tail to pin on Goodale as the campaign rages on.

Is this more sideshow or is it a true scandal? So far it seems to be in the category of the sideshow! With no smoking gun, all we’re left with is some suspicious activity on the trading floor and some sheepish expressions around the Liberal camp, not to mention the odd foot in the mouth of the Liberal handlers.

However it’s something to file away for after the election. It might make for a nice inquiry, once the new parliament is elected and sitting. After all Judge Gomery is almost out of work, he might be inclined to become our nation's investigator at large.

The way things are going in Ottawa these days, it could be the most permanent position in the land!

No comments: