(This column was published in the North Shore News on Mar. 21, 2001)

 

Nixon's lesson not learned by politicians

By Leo Knight

IT'S long been said that politics creates strange bedfellows, but recent events seem to indicate that politics also creates idiots.  

 

Take Edmonton-Strathcona Canadian Alliance MP Rahim Jaffer and his little bit of game playing last weekend at the expense of CKNW talk show host Peter Warren.  

 

The story has been much discussed by now and, as I write this two days before publication, it seems it will be one of those political stories that will be with us for a while.  

 

On Saturday, Jaffer's executive assistant, Matthew Johnston, gave a radio interview to Warren while pretending to be Jaffer, who it seems, was busy opening a coffee shop for the latté crowd in Alberta's capital city.  

 

While the foolishness of that need not be argued, one cannot help but shake the bonnet over the blatant stupidity of Jaffer exacerbating the error by then claiming that he was in fact personating Johnston in an earlier call with Warren's producer.  

 

Yet again, we see an elected politician vainly attempting a cover-up when a simple dose of the truth would have sufficed.  

 

Had Jaffer, when confronted, simply said, "Yes, it's true. He made a mistake with the best of intentions and has paid for it with his job." That would have been it. But no, the slick, young politician just had to make a sow's ear out of a silk purse.  

 

Have none of these people ever heard of Richard Nixon? Had he not tried to engage in a cover up, the Watergate break-in would have been little more than a second rate burglary and not even a footnote in history.  

 

The other extremely puzzling thing about the whole Jaffer situation is how Stockwell Day responded.  

 

Since the election and the less than expected results achieved by the Alliance under their new leader, Day has been on the defensive, both from outside forces and elements from within the party.  

 

He has also suffered greatly in credibility on the issue of the letter he wrote to the Red Deer Advocate about school trustee and lawyer, Lorne Goddard. Taxpayers in Alberta have been howling about the $750,000 plus payout to settle the case.  

 

Since then Day has struggled to regain any momentum and the party seems divided rather than united behind him.  

 

Then Jaffer gives him a gift.  

 

The Alliance have been all over the prime minister over the scandal dubbed "Shawinigate" but Chrétien has managed to avoid any body blows in the questionable affair. Largely because Day has not been able to deflect the criticisms aimed at him. It's hard to mount a sustained offense if one is constantly repelling attacks.  

 

With Day calling for honesty from the prime minister and soundly rebuking the three ministers involved in the Gaetano Amadeo farce (the Mafia hit man in this country for several years despite the existence of two Interpol warrants for murder), Jaffer gave him the opportunity to show leadership, integrity and political smarts by banishing Jaffer from caucus for deliberately lying and trying to effect a cover up. The very thing for which Day has been attacking the government.  

 

He did discipline Jaffer, stripping him from the Small Business committee and sending him from the third row to the fifth row in the house, but really that's pretty small beer. Especially when he could have asserted a moral leadership and silenced his critics at the same time.  

 

It's difficult to demand honesty from the government if he appears to be soft on an integrity issue surrounding one of his own members.  

 

For example, on the same day as the Jaffer blunder was rocketing around Parliament, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Solicitor General, Lynn Myers, admitted to misleading the House of Commons on Friday. Ordinarily, this would result in swift action by the Speaker banishing the offending member. But not this time for some reason.  

 

During Friday's Question Period, Alliance MP Jason Kenney was trying to ask a question when Myers, a loud bullyboy at the best of times, screamed out "racist."  

 

Kenney demanded Myers withdraw the remark. The truth being seemingly foreign to him, Myers denied he said any such thing claiming he had said, "rubbish." On Monday he admitted he had misled the House and calmly sat down, suffering no damage.  

 

West Vancouver MP John Reynolds tried to extract some blood from the junior minister, using Jaffer as an example of what should happen. But, it seems the attack lacked effect.  

 

Like Jaffer, all Myers had to do on Friday was withdraw the offending remark and sit down. That would have been it. But, like Jaffer, it seems a politician's knee-jerk reaction is to lie. Instead he has given the Opposition an opportunity to recover quickly from the Jaffer faux pas.  

 

Why is it, in politics today, the truth is the first casualty?  

 

* * *  

 

On a personal note, I'd like to publicly pass on to Peter Speck, publisher of this paper, my sincere thanks and heartfelt best wishes for his retirement, announced last week.  

 

I try and take a strong position on events as I see them and since I began writing for the North Shore News in 1994, I have never once been asked not to do or say something regardless of the topic. Despite threats of lawsuits and other things over the years, Peter Speck backed my right to speak out even if he disagreed, personally, with my opinions.  

 

I appreciate the integrity he brought to our professional relationship. The sort of integrity missing in our political leaders as discussed above.

 

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