David Sachs: Stephen Harper puts Conservatives in a bind

The conservative mindset understands that power tends to corrupt. How far will we let it corrupt us?

I have been involved in party work for more than a decade and I call on other party members to demand answers or resignation from our leader.

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper has long employed the cynical strategy of total denial when faced with controversy, disregarding the public’s right to the truth.

He knows the public will never follow the minutiae of events. As long as solidarity is maintained, Harper can ride out any storm by claiming it is just more partisan noise. Only we Conservatives have the power to break that solidarity and take away Harper’s trump card.

It’s time to demonstrate that Conservatives care about ethics and, ultimately, checks on that corrupting influence of power.

Some of the prime minister’s key people have conspired to undermine Senate investigations, to influence a third-party financial audit and ultimately to pay off a senator, all, in tragic irony, to maintain an illusion of party ethics. The prime minister has, in the kindest interpretation, hidden the full truth.

Is that acceptable to Canadians and Conservatives?

As Conservatives, there is much Harper and his government have done to be proud of. But as more power is seized by the unelected members of Harper’s inner circle, as more of his key chosen people turn out to be ethically unsound or worse, we must ask: How far will we let our own leader go?

Some Conservatives argue this tempest is all over a small amount of money. But if the prime minister’s key people are willing to go to such lengths over such a small issue, solely to maintain the façade of ethics, how far would they go over big issues?

Does anyone trust this government to deal openly when facing major challenges?

We Conservatives have a rare opportunity. Our opponents are weak and divided. Our team is strong and experienced. If we force Harper to answer truthfully or resign, we gain back our ethical platform. We give a new leader a chance to run in the next election from the prime minister’s office.

Even if we lose one election, we will likely face a short-term minority government with a flawed leader. In the big picture, this is the least risky time to change a faulty part.

If we do not act, we embolden Harper. We increase the risk of further ethical scandals.

Make no mistake: if Harper continues like this, he will fall and he will take our party down with him. It will be hard to win an election for a decade. We should control the process.

As a first action, our senators need to make themselves heard. They can break that facade of Conservative solidarity that Harper depends on. Here is a chance to show that they matter and to take real action to reverse the slide of ethical responsibility we have seen under successive governments of various party stripes.

What is democracy if an elected leader abuses all the levers of power? If he or his people manipulate independent branches of government (Senate, Parliamentary Budget Officer)? If he or people acting on his behalf abuse the electoral process (as in the allegations of electoral fraud), and then abuse the investigative process (the independent Deloitte audit)? If our leaders hide the truth as common practice?

Harper is no dictator. We should call on him to speak the truth at last. If he can pull the party back from this slide, he can yet rescue his leadership. If not, he must go.

Harper is putting each of us Conservatives in an ethical bind, and we should resent him for this. We will never be united as a party, let alone as a country, when we are so divided within ourselves.

We need to make ourselves and our country right, and demand ethical, accountable government, whatever its colours.

 

David Sachs is a Conservative communications consultant who has worked for cabinet ministers Lawrence Cannon and Peter Kent. He is a board member of the Pontiac Conservative Riding Association in Quebec.

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