Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dean Del Mastro & Harper's Hobson's Choice

A convicted but noisily defiant Dean Del Mastro suddenly resigned as a Member of Parliament today.

Two days ago he was telling the world that he would go to the gates of hell trying to reopen his case after being convicted but before sentencing for what his press release called "fresh evidence". We haven't seen his "fresh evidence", but it appears it is some Elections Canada evidence that was disclosed at or before trial, but Dean and his legal eagles decided to roll the dice on it and didn't feel they needed to ask for an adjournment to review or contest.

But today Dean changed his tune from defiant and fight to the last breath, to resign immediately with what passes for political dignity. In his 15 minute resignation speech in the House of Commons today, Del Mastro was still defiant, defensive, self-congratulatory and expressed his undying love for the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives rewarded him with two things. First a standing ovation from the Government benches, which is odd for someone just convicted of willfully committing electoral fraud. Second, a proposed amendment yesterday from Conservative MP Tom Lukiwksi, parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, amending the MPs' pension forfeiture rule that would limit the new rule to a specific list of criminal offences, coincidentally excluding a conviction under the Canada Elections Act.

So, Dean would get to keep his pension.

Harper was on the horns of a dilemma with Del Mastro's conviction on three courts of violating the Canada Elections Act, the most important of which was not the overspending, but the deliberate attempt to cover it up. The Canada Elections Act says clearly that anyone convicted of these offences is automatically stripped of their seat in the House of Commons and prohibited from running or holding office for 5 years. Parliament controls its own affairs, and Harper has in the past hidden behind a sympathetic and compliant Speaker and his majority to thumb his nose at everything up to and including being found in contempt of parliament - the only time it has ever happened in the Commonwealth.

Harper hates the courts and is determined to make sure Parliament (ie: Harper) is firmly placed above the courts. For him to implement a decision of the courts and Elections Canada regarding Del Mastro, his former parliamentary secretary and Ethics Committee member, would be to acknowledge the courts' authority over him. Not going to happen.

The other half of Harper's Hobson's choice was whether to kick out Del Mastro or not. If he kept him, he would have to fight the real observation that he was harbouring a convicted election cheat. If he kicked Del Mastro out, not only was he caving to the courts, but he was sending a lesson to the faithful that even his loyal foot soldier and attack dog would go under the bus when necessary. And there is no telling who the dog would bite once off the leash.

So in a remarkable about face, today Dean Del Mastro resigned his seat, still singing the praises of the Conservative Party.

What changed? His pension for one. One can imagine a scenario where Del Mastro was told by the PMO short pants brigade that if forced to make a decision, Harper would be forced to have his Conservative caucus vote him out of his seat, pensionless. In fact yesterday Peter van Loan - one of Harper's replacement attack dogs - indicated that the Conservatives might be forced to vote him out of the Commons and might not be able to protect his pension.

Unless - I'm guessing - Dean spares Harper the embarrassment of either keeping him or caving into the court and dismissing him through a vote.  In return, Dean keeps his pension (and possibly some unspecified token of future gratitude) and a small scrap of his dignity

Suddenly, defiant Dean turns on a dime and changes his tune and resigns full of love and praise for his (former) Conservative colleagues. He has fallen on his sword in return for keeping his pension and a farewell speech and Harper can scuttle off to China while the whole thing blows over.

Del Mastro's motion to reopen will go no where - at the best of times it's a rarity and what he complains of being "fresh evidence" is in reality a tactical mistake by him at trial - and any appeal is likewise doomed to failure.

In the meantime Harper has dodged a bullet and Dean keeps his pension after likely having had it explained to him that it was that or being hung out to dry by his own people with nothing to show for it.

Plus a standing ovation from the people who ordered him to walk the plank.

Ain't love grand?

Dean Del Mastro - definitely not a Conservative