a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quite a body count so far in Guergis affair

In his 1965 book, The Shape of Scandal: A study of a government in crisis, Canadian journalist Richard Gwyn made a very telling observation about political scandal. Once a scandal has caught the public imagination, it takes on a life of its own with some surprise victims.

Long out of print, The Shape of Scandal documented how the prison break of a drug dealer in Quebec consumed Parliament, led to a royal commission, the resignation of a justice minister and hurt the careers of countless others during the years of the Pearson minority government.

To this day, this scandal is remembered by all sides on Parliament Hill as an affair that got out of hand like a horrendous brush fire.

Those involved in the current controversy surrounding Helena Guergis, Rahim Jaffer and other characters might like to scout out some second-had book stores for Gwyn's book.

Aside from Ottawa's most famous former power couple and business promoter Nazim Gillani, this affair has taken a large casualty list in under two weeks.

Derrick Snowdy, the private detective who started this all by making allegations, still unclear, to a Conservative party lawyer, is under almost as much scrutiny as the three central players.

Mary Dawson, Parliament's ethics commissioner, should probably be thinking about career options once this affair is over. So far she has looked indecisive and less than eager to investigate.

This officer of Parliament has already antagonized the Opposition because of a couple of goofy past rulings. Although government advertising on the recovery plan looked a lot like campaign propaganda, according to Dawson it did not violate conflict of interest rules because the Conservative party is neither a person nor a corporation. Huh?

Is Dawson is using every possible loophole and pretext to avoid investigating the government?She is bound to be in Opposition MP sights as this affair continues.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have appeared to be doing the right thing at first by quickly calling in Dawson and the RCMP. But since nothing much of substance has emerged against Guergis so far, he may have been a little too quick.

There is now wide speculation he used the slimmest of pretexts to rid himself of a gaff-prone minister. The Prime Minister has something to lose in this affair just as the other players do.

Political scandals rarely result in formal legal action. But they damage careers of anyone in their path.

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