One of the disappointing institutional character traits to emerge out of the Liberal party's christening of itself as "Canada's natural governing party" has been an unwillingness on the party's part to accept responsibility for its own defeats.
Over the past three years, the Liberal party and its supporters have rarely hesitated to blame its last two electoral defeats on something other than itself -- anything other than itself.
They blamed the NDP for competing against them and winning seats that would otherwise be won by Liberals. They blamed the RCMP for announcing an investigation into a leak involving a taxation decision on income trusts. They blamed CTV for airing an interview which revealed Stephane Dion's inability to use the English language functionally.
But an opinion article appearing in the Victoria Times Colonist written by Carleton University's Andrew Cohen reveals a disturbing tendency by partisan "experts" to peddle these excuses under the guise of their expertise.
Cohen's article is a feverish mish-mash of what-ifs, ands, or buts, suggesting that Dion may have won the election if not for that dastardly Mike Duffy, just as Paul Martin may have won the 2005/06 campaign if not for the dastardly RCMP:
"The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council conducted a review. The council is a self-regulatory body comprising more than 720 Canadian radio and television stations. It administers the industry's broadcast code of conduct.The fact that millions of other Canadians understood Steve Murphy's question to Dion perfectly well seems to be lost on Cohen. As does the fact that if one of the political leaders running to be Canada's Prime Minister is severely hampered in his ability to use of one Canada's official languages, the public has the right to know about this.
Its two reports, which were released recently and largely ignored by the media, criticized CTV for breaching the code, a finding CTV strenuously rejected. That was revealing.
But what's more revealing is what this little saga tells us about how things are done in this country. It's about politics, ethics and maybe ambition, too.
On CTV Atlantic, the council concluded that Murphy asked a question that was 'confusing, and not only to a person whose first language is other than English.' It said that Murphy mixed tenses (past and present) and moods (subjunctive and indicative). In other words, Dion was justifiably puzzled.
In light of the badly worded question, which Murphy could have clarified, the panel called the restarts "a courtesy" to Dion. It also said repeating questions isn't unusual in broadcasting and particularly justified here, given Murphy's convoluted question.
Moreover, because Murphy never refused Dion's requests to restart the interview, Dion had reason to believe that the embarrassing footage would not be used.
On Duffy's broadcast, the council's judgment was harsher. It called his performance unfair and unbalanced. It said that Duffy misrepresented the views of one of his guests, Liberal MP Geoff Regan. In the end, Duffy breached the industry's code of ethics.
Is all this a grammarian's revenge, Miss Thistlebottom in full flight? A silly parsing of sentences? A regulator's punctilious dressing down on decorum? Does it really matter how Dion was treated by CTV, particularly by Mike Duffy?
Actually, yes, particularly in a country where the RCMP might well have determined the outcome of the 2006 election, when it announced an investigation, in mid-campaign, into allegations of irregularities on the part of finance minister Ralph Goodale. It caused a sensation. The Liberals lost that election; no charges materialized.
Last October, polls suggested the Liberal party's ascent stalled after the interview. While we cannot say if Dion's momentum would have brought his party victory, it isn't impossible.
In other words, CTV may have thrown the election to the Conservatives. In running the embarrassing outtakes, it reinforced an image of Dion as incomprehensible and indecisive."
Cohen seems to overlook the fact that Paul Martin and Ralph Goodale had declined to launch an inquiry into the allegations. When one considers that criminal charges were laid in the affair, Goodale and Martin's decision was grossly irresponsible. It took the NDP's Finance Critic, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, writing a letter of complaint to the RCMP to get the investigation launched.
If Goodale and Martin had done the responsible thing and launched a probe before the election, the RCMP investigation would have likely already been underway by the time the election began.
In other words, even if the RCMP investigation was the Liberal party's undoing, it was their own doing in the first place.
This is before one even mentions the fact that the Liberal party was already extremely vulnerable to charges of corruption after the ground-shaking revelations of the Gomery Inquiry into the Sponsorship Scandal. They knew it well enough to threaten then-Opposition Leader Stephen Harper with a lawsuit for so much as speaking about the implications of the scandal for the Liberal party.
Harper wisely told the Liberal party to stuff a sock in it.
Likewise, Cohen seems to overlook the fact that, as it pertains to Dion's language issues, Canadians -- citizens of an officially bilingual country, and Cohen may want to remember that -- had a right to know. When the matter was discussed a few days later on Mike Duffy Live, the story was Dion's language issues.
Cohen, himself a Journalism professor, would know full well that if the false starts were the story, the rest of the interview is not part of that story and would be discussed later, if at all.
Cohen goes on to lob accusations that Duffy received his Senate seat as a reward for the allegedly-scandalous Dion segment -- Green party Elizabeth May, herself no stranger to self-indulgent whining, has also suggested that Duffy received his seat as a reward for a media hit job on her. He tries to bolster his case by noting that Duffy has been particularly partisan since being appointed, attending various party fundraisers, and noting that Pamela Wallin hasn't done the same.
Yet Cohen would also be overlooking the fact that Duffy realistically showed no such fervour for partisanship during his career as a journalist, although he was often accused of partisanship by each side of Canada's partisan divide.
It isn't at all as if Mike Duffy ever wrote an op/ed column making excuses for the Conservative party's electoral defeats -- which is more than can be said for certain journalism professors.