The Muttart scandalette.
Look, if you're going to blow a $6-billion hole in the budget to further enrich fat-cat corporations with a windfall they don't need and didn't ask for (and which won't create the advertised jobs supposedly justifying this piece of mal-economics), and it doesn't cost you an election, then the sky's the limit.
Gross understatements of the true costs of prisons, and then of 22nd-century ultra-sophisticated fighter jets we don't need? We'll give you a pass on those. A mid-campaign disclosure of exorbitant toilet-building scattered across Tony Clement's riding pre-G8 summit? No problem. A party so paranoid it's revealed to have accumulated potentially damaging quotes by its own leader since the early 2000s, at the direction of former Harper chief of staff Tom Flanagan, no less - a tome that weighs in at 500 pages. That's a Nixonian dose of oppo-research done on yourself. (So far, no enemies list, but if one materializes, I hope to brag of being on it. I am on Enbridge's, because I keep failing to pay for gas my Dad hasn't ordered or used since passing away 10 months ago.)
All to say that today's Tories-step-into-open-manhole story is destined, like the above, to last maybe one news cycle.
It's a fun story, though. Irony abounds.
Patrick Muttart (pictured), whiz kid credited with slicing and dicing the electorate into soccer moms and Tim Hortons patrons that the Tories could selectively appeal to with a congeries of specialized tax cuts that transformed the Income Tax Act into Swiss cheese, is accused by Sun Media controlling shareholder Pierre Karl Peladeau of providing the upstart small-c conservative Sun TV network with a photo purporting to be Ignatieff in battle garb and generally whipping small-l liberal across North America to get with Dubya's program to invade Iraq.
Which Iggy in fact did, he provided liberal cover for neo-con Bush's gang of regime changers with a series of New York Times Magazine apologias both for the Iraq war and "extreme interrogation." (This while he headed Harvard's Carr Center for human rights. But I digress.) Iggy was in Cambridge at the time, not wearing U.S. army fatigues in Kuwait.
Turns out the fellow in the shot isn't Iggy, but a U.S. soldier. This fact was uncovered by Julian Assange's operatives, but accomplished by Sun Media itself, with immense skill and determination in scouring Google Images. Peladeau accuses Muttart of trying to discredit his new right-of-centre TV network as an agent of the Tories by getting it to use the dubious photo.
Actually, if I was Peladeau I'm not sure I'd be entirely displeased about that, since Sun TV currently has the bigger problem of trying to prove it's more than a repeater of foreign video clips with skirts. Unfair? Hey, it wasn't my idea to cross-promote the new network by making its afternoon "anchor-babe" the entire front cover of the Toronto Sun, accompanied by a photo gallery of online eye candy of the said former CBC anchor.)
Conveniently for Muttart, Peladeau employs at Sun Media one Kory Teneycke, who also once worked in Harper's PMO, as media spokesthingy. You'll recall how Teneycke, as a lobbyist, later struggled in a most embarrassing way in trying to wrestle CRTC approval of a third (3rd) all-news TV channel for Canada. (The U.S. gets by with two, CNN and Faux News. With 10% of the U.S. population, we already had two long-established and competent - i.e. news, not rabid-opinion - all-news spin-offs of the CBC and CTV.)
Encounters in the CRTC bunker in Hull turned out to be a tougher for Teneycke than his revolving door, post-PMO gig as head of the lobby seeking to impose 5% ethanol and other biofuel in our gas tanks, which miraculously became federal policy in 2008, two years after Harpo took power. Ethanol, as we know, requires more energy to produce than it generates when combusted in your Ford F-150 pickup. It also raises food prices, when corn production is diverted from food and livestock-feed uses. But that's another story.
Like fellow ex-PMOer Teneycke, Muttart turned lobbyist. He now toils at a Chicago-based "high-stakes public strategy" firm called Mercury Public Affairs USA. Muttart returned to Canada when the writ dropped to help part time with the Tory campaign. Alas, Sun Media looked closely at the photo and decided against using it. Decided instead to trace its immediate provenance. And he had a mole friend inside the Sun empire named Kory Teneycke. (And Pierre Karl wonders why his new TV network is widely regarded as a CPC front...)
You don't mess with Pierre Karl, as striking Videotron and Journal de Montreal workers have learned to their grief. The revelation of the dubious photo and the Tory campaign announcement that Mr. Muttart is abruptly persona non grata and presumably enroute to the Loop came within nanoseconds of each other this morning.
The unfolding of these events will please the CBC and Ekos pollster Frank Graves no end. Just last year, Muttart, in his post-PMO capacity, was on Roy Green's Corus Radio Network show excoriating Graves for offering the the Grits advise based on his demographic data, despite having never been on the Grits' payroll, full or part-time.
Since Ekos at the time was also polling for the CBC, this was proof positive to the Harper image guardians that Graves was in a grave conflict of interest, so to speak. So said Muttart, tearing himself away from lobbying legislators in Springfield or Washington. (You have to understand, as a government or private-sector employer of such people, that it's near-impossible to know at any given time for whom exactly they're working, regardless of where their cheques are coming from.)
Mr. Graves felt himself to have been out of line, and apologized all around, including to the PM. Just the same, Muttart smeared Graves as a Liberal contributor - over and over again to the point of monotony. This despite Roy Green noting at the top of the interview that Graves is, or was, a bipartisan donor, having given a little more than $11,000 to the Liberal Party but also $449.04 to the, er, Tory candidate in his own Ottawa riding.
Here's the fun part, though, given Muttart's singular genius - his one claim to fame - of parsing the electorate, as Karl Rove taught all the emulators of his generation to do - so that appeals for support could me made to them in isolation of the rest of the country. Here's Muttart on the Roy Green show skewering Graves for doing what earned Muttart his own reputation in getting Harper elected in 2006 and 2008:
You know, this guy [Graves] is telling the Liberal Party that they should go out and attempt to divide Canadians, you know, putting the Liberals on the side of tolerance and the Conservatives on the side of racism and a whole bunch of other things. Now, Graves, in his half-hearted apology, said he doesn't believe that the Prime Minister is a racist. He simply believes that the Prime Minister attracts a disproportionate number of racists as party supporters. It's offensive, it's inappropriate, and it just demonstrates how unacceptable it is that the CBC has hi on as their neutral pollster on party politics.
To utter that last line, you'd have to believe that pollsters/policy advisers/ad gurus/bagmen Allan Gregg, Keith Davey and Dalton Camp were holograms and not entries in The Canadian Encyclopedia. With the likes of Muttart as Harper's erstwhile deputy chief of staff, you begin to understand Harper's failure to connect with, well, Canada and its history. Apart from maybe Victoria and Sir John A, I doubt the majority of this PM's inner circle from 2006 to the present could tell you why D'Arcy McGee and Co. are celebrated with the statues that populate Parliament Hill.
Then there's the matter of what did Graves tell the Grits:
I told them to invoke a culture war, cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy...I do believe that there's a higher incidence of people who are less tolerant of homosexuals and more wary of other races within the Conservative Party. I can demonstrate that emirically. That does not mean that Conservatives or Albertans are homophobic or xenophobic, but it does mean that many people, and more people statistically that have those points of view, end up in that party than in other places. That may be a statement that people don't want to hear, but it's empirically accurate and has been for a long time.
I do have a problem with that, namely that it is true. And it's why I haven't been able to vote conservative since the demise of the Progressive Conservative Party. Which itself was an act of high treachery on the part of Peter MacKay and of Harper, though in fairness Harper was a mere abettor, MacKay the Judas.
Finally - I know you're glad to see that word - Muttart was known admiringly among more than a few in Tory circles as "Harper's brain." Again, you'd have to be of a certain age - a whiz kid, perhaps; someone who hadn't matured beyond the age of majority - to have failed to read or overhear someplace that William Kristol, future war-mongerer, was known as "Dan Quayle's brain" when Kristol served as that one-term veep's chief of staff.
But, given how irrelevant Canadians are in the City of Broad Shoulders (I wish I could say "exotic," but that would be Moldova), I'll be forgiving if Muttart now reverts to his shorthand description of himself to prospective U.S. clients. "Well, back in Canada they said I was our prime minister's brain."
It would be nice if Muttart is wearing a good-fitting suit and has patted down his cowlick when he feels to say this. He might just be the only Canuck many of the Yanks he encounters will ever meet.