Stephen Harper questions Michael Ignatieff's moral compass
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has seized upon a Conservative party spat over the appointment of the Oliphant Inquiry into dealings between Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schrieber to steal some moral capital away from Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
Harper insists that his currently-troubled relationship with Brian Mulroney proves that his government is concerned with ethics, while Ignatieff is only concerned about garnering political advantage wherever he may find an opportunity.
"Mr Ignatieff and the Liberal party, when the matter first broke, were practically demanding that I throw Mr. Mulroney in prison without a trial," Harper said. "Now they're out there pretending that somehow they're his best friends and they don't agree with any of this."
"Canadians will remember this government had a difficult issue and I think this government handled it in a responsible way," Harper continued. "This is not an easy matter, but I think Canadians understand that the government has taken a matter that is very difficult for ourselves, for our party, and handled it responsibly."
Indeed, the Liberal party -- then under Stephane Dion -- and their partisans milked Karlheinz Schreiber's promised revelations for all they felt it was worth. It was the Liberals themselves who demanded a public inquiry.
"I think what Canadians will see when it comes to a very difficult issue of government conduct and government ethics, this government has behaved responsibly and the other party, the other leader, has absolutely no moral compass," Harper concluded.
It's worth noting that Ignatieff's sin seems to have come in the form of a birthday phone call to Mulroney.
Under nearly any circumstances such a call would be entirely inconsequential. Making that call while Mulroney is the subject of a public inquiry, however, and somehow allowing that call to become public is a blunder, even if a minor blunder that Harper is exaggerating -- and very likely knows it.
This would be a masterful job of twisting the affair to tarnish Ignatieff on Harper's part if Ignatieff hadn't actually done it to himself. Exploiting a scandal is usually the most expedient method of garnering political moral capital at an opponent's expense.
Suddenly shifting gears on the matter is a very fast way to get covered in one's own mud. One would expect that Ignatieff should know better.
Also raked over the coals at a recent caucus meeting were the claims that Mulroney is no longer a member of the Conservative party. Marjory LeBreton, the Tory house leader in the Senate, noted that Mulroney had allowed his party membership to lapse.
Many Conservatives, however, do not believe this was the case, and the appointment of the inquiry seems to have enflamed lingering divisions between Mulroney-era Progressive Conservatives and former Reformers.
Normally, this would be a serious problem for Stephen Harper. But with Michael Ignatieff managing to flip flop spectacularly on the issue, Stephen Harper may have gained more from the matter than he was ever really at risk of losing.