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Liberals expect Tories will try to dig for dirt

[PoliticsWatch posted 5:00 p.m. May 8, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Liberal MPs said Monday they would not be surprised if the new Conservative government spends the next year releasing damaging information about the previous Liberal government after a U.S. pollster made the recommendation to prominent Conservatives over the weekend.
Frank Luntz, a prominent Republican pollster, told an audience of more than 200 members of a Canadian conservative group that the Tories should dig up as much dirt as possible in the next year on the previous government to help secure a majority in the next election. 

"Your Liberal government was corrupt," Mr. Luntz told members of the Civitas Society. "It was disgusting. The way they wasted your hard-earned tax dollars was a disgrace.

"I want you to leave here committed to insisting that the Conservative government hold that previous Liberal government accountable, that you do oversight, that you do investigation, that you continue doing it for the next year so that every Canadian knows and will never forget and will never allow another government to steal more from them," 

A number of Tory MPs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper were in attendance at the conference in Kanata over the weekend. 

Luntz's comments were greeted by applause, according to media reports. 

"I knew that the Conservatives were very close to American political types, right wing, but now they're taking their direction from right wing operatives," said Liberal MP Marlene Jennings, who was the vice chair of the public accounts committee when it examined the sponsorship program in 2004. 

During question period, Liberal MP Mark Holland accused Harper of "taking direction" from Republican pollsters. 

Harper denied that allegation. 

"I have known Mr. Luntz for some years but he does not work for the government or for the Conservative Party," said Harper.

Although Luntz was not speaking on behalf of the government, the Tories appear to have a similar game plan in place. 

The Conservatives' Accountability Act includes the creation of a new director of public prosecutions. 

The new prosecutor is designed to operate at arm's length from the justice department and to mute speculation about political interference in cases where politicians are involved. 

During the election campaign, Harper hinted the prosecutor would look further into the sponsorship scandal when he the director would look at "present, former or future government officials" and would "decide on prosecutions arising from the sponsorship scandal."

"After many years we find ourselves with nobody in jail for these crimes," Harper said at the time. "I think when we see scandals in other countries, we see results much faster in many cases for problems like that."

The Conservatives also are going ahead with its election promise to appoint an independent advisor to examine public opinion research practices contained in the November 2003 Auditor General's report that also made findings on the sponsorship program.

That chapter was left out of the mandate of the terms of reference for the Gomery inquiry by the Martin government. 

People in Ottawa believe the focus of the probe is largely political in nature, designed to put the spotlight on members of former prime minister Paul Martin's inner circle who had polling contracts for the finance department. 

And recently, the Tories released details regarding David Dingwall's severance payout from the Royal Canadian Mint, which suggested the previous government had effectively forced him from his job and he did not leave voluntarily, as Martin and former revenue minister John McCallum had publicly asserted for weeks. 

Liberal MPs are not surprised if the Tories are adopting such a strategy, but in interviews with PoliticsWatch they seemed fed up with the endless Conservative allegations of corruption. 

"What the Conservatives have done, which is really inappropriate, is effectively they have created a Liberal character," said Liberal MP and leadership candidate Ken Dryden.

"They have decided that the Liberal character is arrogant, is corrupt, is a promise-breaker and that is all the Liberals represent in terms of 13 years and that is so utterly inappropriate."

Dryden said the Tory attacks overlook much of the Liberals' accomplishments during the previous 13 years and the public knows it. 

"I think that very early on that act will wear pretty thin as far as the public is concerned. It may play well on the floor of the House, it doesn't play very well outside. The fact is the Conservatives are now the government, so govern." 

Liberal MP Wayne Easter said he's not surprised if the Tories would adopt such a strategy. 

"I've been expecting it all along," he said. 

"What it is is the import of the American-style politics into Canada," he said. "It's the kind of style of politics that the United States have done for a number of years."

Easter admitted that there were problems with the sponsorship program, but said the Tories used the scandal and made it "a crisis bigger than it really was." 

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