Thursday, June 08, 2006

Corruption: Is What's Good For the Goose Also Good For the Gander?

Liberals may have hit the jackpot

Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have something other than not getting along with the media to keep him busy these days.

On June 6th, the Liberals called on the RCMP to investigate a lawsuit filed against Conservative MP Rob Anders filed by James Istvanffy, a former executive assistant who alleges he was fired for questioning Anders' decisions regarding the expenditure of his campaign funding.

Istvanffy, who was paid $51,500 annually, claims that Anders borrowed thousands of dollars from him, in order to cover expenses that the House of Commons would't spring for. He also claims that Anders resorted to fraudulently billing the government in order to repay some of his debts. Istvanffy claims that Anders used expense accounts to do this, under the guise of salary increases, fake travel expenses, and book shelves. He also claims that a number of people were put to work on the federal Conservative campaign while being paid with taxpayer dollars.

Naturally, Anders denies these allegations, and has promised a strong statement of such will be released by the end of the week.

As always in Canada, Anders is innocent until proven guilty. It isn't entirely implausible that Istvanffy may be filing the lawsuit and making these accusations strictly as an act of retribution. One could wonder why Istvanffy is suing for unpaid debts while claiming that he was repaid with pilfered taxpayer dollars. Then again, one would also expect that Istvanffy wouldn't be so bold as to make these accusations unless he could prove them.

He will have to prove them -- possibly even in the course of an RCMP or Parliamentary investigation.

"Obviously these allegations are very serious and if they are true, this is something that's more than just a breach of good faith - this is outright fraud and criminal if true,'' said Liberal MP Mark Holland, who represents Ajax-Pickering.

He's absolutely right. After all the ruckus raised by the Conservatives over the sponsorship scandal (and rightfully so), the last thing the Conservatives can afford to have is an in-house scandal of this sort. Should these allegations be found to be true, they could even potentially de-rail the crucial accountability act that the Conservatives have promised.

The Anders story breaks as the Liberal party has uncovered a scandal of its own. Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne has been accused of using a member of his office staff to cut down trees near his cottage -- while on the taxpayers' clock.

However, in what seems like an uncharacteristic move, Liberal interim leader Bill Graham has done what former leader Paul Martin wouldn't do, and has kicked Lavigne out of caucus until the investigation is settled -- one way or the other. Martin, as some may recall, refused to discipline Scott Brison, who as Vice-Chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance sent an e-mail to a friend leaking what he believed would be a favourable policy regarding the taxation of income trusts.

"It is inappropriate for Senator Lavigne to sit with the Liberal caucus until any investigations have been completed," Graham said in a statement.

Wow. In an uncharacteristic move, the federal Liberals have set a good example on how to deal with potential corruption (the allegations against Lavigne are not yet proven, either). Certainly, all eyes will turn to Stephen Harper: will he follow suit and (at least temporarily) oust Anders from caucus until this matter is settled?

Hopefully, he will. At least asking Anders to voluntarily sit out from the Conservative caucus until the matter is settled certainly isn't any sort of accusation. Nor would Anders agreeing to do so be an admission of guilt. It would be an act of a government that (as promised) takes corruption -- even the mere accusations of corruption -- seriously.

It isn't often that the Liberal party sets an example that other parties should follow, but this is one of these times. Unfortunately for the Liberals, Bill Graham isn't running for their party leadership.

How, it is up to Stephen Harper to follow Graham's example and show Canadians that his party takes corruption within its ranks every bit as seriously as it has proven it takes corruption within other parties.

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