The Death of Oily – the tragic premature demise of an almost Canadian icon

Oily, the talking oil spotIt was the first brillantly sunny pre-summer weekend of June. Joggers in Ottawa hit the river parkway and canal while sun-bathers converged on Parliament Hill. In an air-conditioned office on Queen street, Conservative Party officials were preparing to unleash the first volley of their new advertising campaign.

A few short weeks earlier, hapless and troubled Liberal leader Stephane Dion first mused about a new policy that MP Garth Turner would later – in a turnabout way – described as the sort of idea that drove the former sociology professor into politics years ago.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien recruited the then-unelected Mr. Dion into cabinet as intergovernmental affairs minister and following that, Canada’s environmental direction was later guided by Dion’s hand as environment minister. Tethering his ambition on recent popular interest in the topic of Global Warming, Dion and his supporters donned green scarves at the Liberal leadership convention in 2006 and effectively won the contest with this topic as a single issue campaign. For Dion, it was a calculated risk and when he secured the leadership of “Canada’s Natural Governing Party” – despite its recent rejection to opposition status – Mr. Dion probably thought he scored himself quite a coup. Unfortunately for him, a shrewd Conservative Party set to work soon after defining his visibly weak personality as weak leadership and Canadians started to associate the man with the cleverly crafted Conservative catchphrase “not a leader”.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Conservative strategists are facing an alternative line of attack from the opposition. Scandal is the order (rather, strategy) of the day for the Liberal Party. Labeled as untrustworthy after the very public sponsorship scandal, Liberal minds went to work after receiving a bit of a hint from Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney. The former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister taught the Liberals that there is no shelf-life on unresolved scandal, but more importantly that the public spotlight on perceived dubious activity could harm Conservatives as it had done the Liberals. If the Liberal brand has a higher floor than that of the new Conservatives, framing all political parties as untrustworthy may just have Liberals coming out ahead (while at the same time setting everyone back). Chuck Cadman, Ian Brodie and NAFTA, and Maxime Bernier became key nodes on the Liberal strategic whiteboard as that party worked on degrading the key strength of the Conservative Prime Minister: trust and accountability.

The Liberals felt a new sense of energy after being demoralized by the constant barrage of attack against their leader. This was especially evident in daily question period when former Liberal leadership candidate Maurizio Bevilacqua rambled off expressive Italian tabloid headlines on the “scandalo” of Maxime Bernier that were dogging the PM on his European trip. A gang of OLO staffers and Liberal researchers showed up in the member’s gallery and held their sides as the Italian-Canadian MP made a great show of his question to the government.

The Liberal leader, however, still had his own problems. Facing a ‘save-the-furniture’ style election by elements within his own caucus – namely MPs loyal to Bob Rae – Dion promoted a new policy plank in his carbon tax. Later told by senior Liberal strategists that calling his plan a tax would turn off Canadians, Dion strode forward on the well-founded assumption that the only thing standing in the way of a Rae-Harper orchestrated defeat of the government, was a party-defining policy that could sustain the embattled leader through the summer. Environment played to one of Mr. Dion’s rare if wrongly perceived strengths and for the Liberal leader it will probably be his last playable hand. Going into a summer forecasted to be a scorcher too hot for even regular joggers along the canal, Mr. Dion may believe that the “green, don’t call it a carbon tax, shift” is his trump card.

In the meantime, Conservative insiders heard that Mr. Dion was set to unveil his carbon tax plan next Wednesday, just prior to the House rising after the spring session. In doing so, the professorial Liberal leader could define his plan outside of Parliament on the – ironic perhaps – propane-fueled BBQ circuit that politicians often take during the summer recess.

In focus groups and telephone-based market research, Conservative planners came to understand that a carbon tax in the abstract is a well-received concept to most Canadians. What they also found, however, that when the details of achieving such a policy objective are understood, a broad majority of Canadians don’t think of it as feasible. Words like “tax-shifting” and “revenue neutral” were panned and uncomfortably rejected by focus groups when polled and the general distrust of politicians regarding new tax became a palatable conclusion for Conservative strategists. Conservative-Liberal switchers, a group that holds victory for either party, was found to have a distrust for any politician with a plan for creative tax manipulation.

As they did before, the Conservatives moved to define the Liberal leader, however this time on his carbon tax, before Dion could do it himself. The party faced two decisions. On one hand, they could engage the Liberals in a debate on their carbon tax proposal, and on the other they could tap into the public’s well-grounded suspicion in creative tax schemes proposed by politicians. The Conservatives chose the latter. Using the specific terms of carbon taxation would be instrumental to the party’s strategy and this would not allow Dion to speak about it in general feel-good terms. Conservatives tasked themselves on warning Canadians of politicians promising new models of taxation. A key weakness for Dion in attracting swing votes that exist between Liberal and Conservative is that the Liberal leader is not viewed as a fiscally frugal Liberal and that he instead occupies the “tax and spend” left camp in the Liberal party. On trust numbers, Harper scores much higher than Dion on the issue of taxation. If Dion’s strength is in the environment, the Conservatives did well to frame this as a tax issue instead. From alluding to the then-promised temporary measure of income taxation to pay for the First World War to the recent McGuinty health premiums, Conservative messaging sought to enhance Canadian skepticism in Dion’s plan yet to be unveiled. Warning tape was streamed at the “willyoubetricked.ca” website the party built to compliment the campaign and scores of volunteers donned yellow shirts – yellow being the colour of warning or caution – to alert Canadians to what Conservatives claim would be Dion’s “tax on everything”. Indeed, the primary message of the campaign was caution underscored by the primary catchphrase “don’t be tricked”.

The party also signed a contract with Fuelcast, the company that runs the video screens at the gas pumps for very focused messaging. While representing less than 5% of their ad buy, the fuelcasting represented a unique angle to land coveted free advertising via earned media; no political party has ever used the gas pump video screens for political advertising and the unique nature of this advertising was a great news hook for the networks. Although the agreement unexpectedly fell through, the campaign earned increased exposure even in the negative attention that certain media outlets gave the ad spots as some reporters speculated that “Oily” (the talking oil spot in the fuelcast spots) was a deliberately engineered failure in order to get earned media.

Oily, as he’s been dubbed by reporters, was never intended to die. Though the Liberal response to the advertising was that such a campaign indicated that the Conservatives were in the pocket of big oil – in that the party purchased advertising on gas pumps, the irony is that the Fuelcast company eventually rejected their advertising citing that they didn’t want to be political. Oily was meant to be an eye catching, sort of in-your-face character to draw the attention of gas pumping consumers and the spot compliment the yellow warning colour of the campaign website. The willyoubetricked.ca website was meant to be a zany, humourous and interactive website that people could pass on to their friends.

Any successful campaign gets a lot of attention and it’s without dispute that this one did. A multi-faceted campaign that included the novelty (or promised novelty) of fuelcasting, an interactive website, a pedestrian literature push in yellow t-shirts and panel after panel of Conservative strategists warning Canadians not to be tricked by politicians promising crazy tax schemes. Surprisingly on Monday, while Conservative prodded Dion on redefining himself (after they had done so) on his carbon tax, Dion accepted the challenge and we bizarrely saw an opposition leader in fact responding rather than challenging. This suggests that the theory that Dion is desperate to cling to a medium-term campaign (rather than a snap election) to save himself as the leader of the Liberal Party.

So this summer, Dion will jump on a jet to visit all parts of Canada, flipping non-organic transited burgers on gas or charcoal grills telling people that he’s in a shifty mood when it comes to their taxes, the summer sun that Canadians will seek to avoid inside their cooled homes may prove to have too much disconnect when it comes to the tax they’ll pay on their gas, their groceries and their respite from the heat. For Conservatives, the party planted a successful seed of well-founded doubt among Canadians concerning Mr. Dion’s plan.

Stéphane Dion – La vie en rouge

Yesterday, the Conservatives released advertising to define Stéphane Dion’s new carbon tax before he has a chance to do it himself. I’m not sure too many people believe politicians when they say that they’ve got a new tax scheme where they’ll “shift” taxes or that Dion has laser-like precision in his tax-balancing ability in order to reconfigure Canada’s tax system to be “revenue-neutral” after he’s done putting a tax on everything from gas to lettuce.

Here’s my contribution. I call it Stéphane Dion – La vie en rouge

Tale of two tapes

In recent Canadian political history we’ve had two stories of alleged bribes offered on tapes followed by partisan claims of doctoring of the evidence.

In one story, former Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal alleges that he was offered a senate seat or an ambassadorship for his MP wife Nina if he defected to the Liberals as that party was trying desperately to hang onto power. Grewal secretly taped then-Prime Minister Paul Martin’s chief of staff in conversation. The Liberals later alleged that Grewal had altered the tapes.

Currently, we have a story about a sitting Prime Minister embroiled in a taping controversy as Tom Zytaruk, biographer of Chuck Cadman, taped the then-opposition leader allegedly speaking about “financial considerations” for the Cadmans if Chuck were to run for the Conservatives after voting to bring down the government.

As an aside, it’s interesting that these stories occurred surrounding the same event. However, what some may consider tangential, let’s look at how these stories were and are being handled by those that tell the story to the rest of us.

In the case of Gurmant Grewal’s taping, when allegations of doctoring arose, the burden of proof shifted to Grewal, to the OLO’s communication staff and to the opposition leader (Harper) himself.

Yesterday, we saw a number of sworn affidavits detailing the context of the taping of Stephen Harper by Tom Zytaruk, which raise not only the question of splicing of the taping, but the context of the interview itself (whether Mr. Harper returned to the car or not – Harper and his staff (Novak, Olsen) and Dona Cadman confirm under oath that he did not). Further, two forensic audio specialists confirm that the tape was altered with Tom Olsen saying “This tape has been edited and doctored to misrepresent the event as it actually occured”. Sworn affidavits from Novak, Olsen and Cadman (including Chuck Cadman’s assertion that he was never offered anything inappropriate), sworn testimony from audio forensic experts saying the tape was altered and an RCMP conclusion that “no evidence” is available to support an investigation into allegations of bribery.

Why after all of this does it seem that the burden of proof has been shifted upon the Tories in both cases? Thus, it seems, they must bear the burden of politicking while Conservative.

Consider this CBC story from June 5th, 2005 concerning the alleged Grewal doctoring,

Experts say Grewal tapes were altered

Last Updated: Monday, June 6, 2005 | 9:12 PM ET

Two audio experts have independently concluded that the secret recordings made by MP Gurmant Grewal were edited.
John Dooher, a forensic audio engineer hired by CBC News, said Thursday there is a “crude” edit and something “amiss” about a section of tapes made by the B.C. member of Parliament.

while in yesterday’s story concerning the alleged doctoring of the Harper interview, CBC News published,

Tories ask court to stop Liberals from using Harper tape

Tape was doctored, Tory MP says

Last Updated: Wednesday, June 4, 2008 | 7:55 PM ET

According to Gough’s sworn statement, “the tape is not a continuous recording of one conversation.”

Moore did not say that Harper’s words had been changed.

When the CBC’s Don Newman read him one exchange between Zytaruk and Harper, Moore would not say whether or not it had been altered.

“Why would you even raise the tape?” Moore said, adding that experts — hired by the Conservatives — have proved that the tape has no credibility.

CBC News should hire its own set of forensic audio experts as they did with the Grewal tape so that they can confirm Moore’s assertion. They should also give the RCMP the benefit of the doubt when that agency says that there is “no evidence” to support an investigation. Perhaps everyone should also take Cadman’s own word when he stated that no inappropriate offer had been made to him by any party. What has happened is that they’ve refocused the story upon an insignificant question still somewhat unanswered (was that Harper speaking about some sort of financial overtures to Cadman? – yet we know from the sworn affidavits released yesterday that those financial considerations were limited to a suggestion of providing party support for a campaign).

In the case of Grewal, enough of a cloud had been cast upon the validity of his tape (and his character) that any tangential unanswered questions (such, as what did Tim Murphy mean by comfy fur?) became moot to the press for that story.

Two tapes, two alleged bribes, two sets of audio experts, two standards.

Tories say Cadman tape was doctored: Supporting documents

Today, at a press conference at the Conservative Party war-room on the east side of Ottawa, reporters were given supporting documents for the latest Conservative volley in the Cadman controversy.

Here is the record of motion to request an injunction against the Liberals from distributing the Cadman tape. It was filed on behalf of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice today. The document includes sworn affidavits from the Prime Minister, Dona Cadman (wife of Chuck Cadman), Ray Novak (Executive Assistant to the Prime Minister), Carolyn Stewart-Olson (press secretary to the Prime Minister), Dan Wallace (former assistant to Chuck Cadman), Jeffrey Ballingall (Conservative Resource Group employee), Vicky Edgecombe (articling student at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP), Tom Owen (Chief Engineer and President of Owl Investigations, a forensic consulting firm), and R. Alan Gough (Integra View Inc., a statement analysis, video and audio forensics firm).

Pages 27-60 are in reverse order and can be found between pages 26 and 61 (the page order is 1-26, 60-27 and then 61-336.

Read this doc on Scribd: Record of Motion

The following is a summary of the Conservative’s argument and highlights that they’re emphasizing from the record of motion.

Read this doc on Scribd: Highlights

Public property reserved for Liberal elite

Last year around this time, I wrote about Stephane Dion’s reward to the top-tier of elite Liberal donors. Last June, the Liberal leader held an exclusive garden party at his official residence, Stornoway. The mansion is property of the National Capital Commission (NCC), a division of the federal government, and therefore public property.

This year, Stephane Dion is again using Stornoway to reward members of the Laurier Club for paying their dues to the party. If you’re a loyal Liberal and have maxed out your annual donation at $1100, you can hob-nob it with fellow Liberals of equal or greater means at the residence currently on loan to Dion by the Canadian taxpayer. Not a Liberal donor but just a chump who pays their taxes? Sorry, this party is for VIP Liberals only.

Last year I noted, “It’s not illegal to use government property in this way as a perk for top donors to a political party per se, but is it ethical?”

I still have the same question.

Here is the story from Canwest about the event,

Liberal leader Stéphane Dion is hosting several hundred of the party’s well-heeled donors tonight at an exclusive garden party in his official residence, Stornoway. Between 400 and 500 members of the Laurier Club, membership that comes only with an annual donation of $1,100 to the Liberal party, are expected to gather under a sprawling backyard tent as part of Mr. Dion’s garden-party events this year, an aide confirmed.

Laurier Club members did not have to donate to the party to attend the event in their honour, press aide Mark Dunn said.

An entrance fee would have been handy, in light of Mr. Dion’s outstanding debt from his 2006 leadership campaign, but contrary to political financing rules. In 2006, Parliament passed the Harper government’s public accountability act in 2006, lowering the ceiling on individual donations from $5,000 to $1,100.

Many Liberal hands make light work at SHAMBA

Since news about apparent Liberal links to the SHAMBA space first broke here last week, Canwest has written about the story and included a denial and excuse from former Liberal leadership contestant Gerard Kennedy,

Kennedy, however, says the fundraising venue was completely paid for in a transaction with GlobAlive Communications Corp, a telecommunications company that started the Shamba foundation.

He said the invitation incorrectly identified the venue as the charitable foundation, creating the confusion.

Kennedy said the only connection with the SHAMBA foundation was that the space has become associated with the charity because the group uses it.

He said GlobAlive rents its spaces – including that site – commercially to both charities and private users.

“It certainly smells like a desperate kind of attempt by the Conservatives,” Kennedy told Canwest News Service on Sunday night.

Desperation? I imagine that conservatives like myself, and indeed, I’m certain that most everyday non-Liberal-membership-card-holding Canadians, are concerned about the equal application of the rules concerning partisan fundraising so that it is done above board. Kennedy, as Globalive’s PR people did when they called on Friday, blamed erroneous Facebook promotion of the event. Later, the official registration form for the SHAMBA/Kennedy event surfaced making the excuse harder to believe.

Today, the Conservative Party put out the following release linking SHAMBA to another potential partisan Liberal fundraiser involving Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty,

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 3, 2008

CONSERVATIVES SUBMIT NEW INFORMATION TO CRA ABOUT SHAMBA-LIBERAL TIES

Liberals must come clean about fundraising practices

OTTAWA – The Conservative Party today asked the Canada Revenue Agency’s charities directorate to investigate another potential partisan Liberal fundraiser held at the SHAMBA Foundation in downtown Toronto. SHAMBA is headed by Anthony Lacavera, a prominent Liberal donor who has contributed in excess of $4,700 to Liberal Gerard Kennedy over the past 2 years.

Conservatives have learned that on August 16, 2007, the SHAMBA Foundation hosted a $500 per person fundraiser for the Ontario Liberal Party. The fundraiser featured an appearance by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, registered charities such as SHAMBA are not permitted to directly or indirectly involve themselves in partisan political activities.

“A registered charity cannot be created for a political purpose and cannot be involved in partisan political activities. A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.” (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/charities/operating/activities/other-e.html#pol)

This new information about partisan Liberal fundraising at SHAMBA comes on the heels of information released June 1, 2008 which revealed that SHAMBA recently hosted a $250 per person fundraiser for federal Liberal intergovernmental affairs critic Gerard Kennedy. According to documents posted on the Liberal Party’s website, the Kennedy fundraiser was identified as a “Political Ideals Celebration” and the registration form for the event was co-branded with Liberal Party and SHAMBA Foundation brand identities.

Conservatives have already written to both Elections Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate the Kennedy fundraiser.

Given the SHAMBA Foundation’s raison d’etre is to provide charities with no-cost event space and negotiated rates on food and beverage, Conservatives want to ensure that Kennedy did not violate Elections Canada’s rules by receiving an illegal non-monetary contribution from the Foundation.

“A non-monetary contribution is the commercial value of a service or of property or the use of property or money, with the exception of volunteer labour, provided without charge or at less than commercial value.” The Elections Canada Handbook for Leadership Contestants, Their Financial Agents, and Auditors http://www.elections.ca/pol/lea/EC20194_c2_e.pdf) (Page 15)

To date, neither SHAMBA, nor the Kennedy campaign, have disclosed:

· The original contract for the event;

· The “commercial rates” supposedly paid for use of the SHAMBA space as well as the food and beverage sold/consumed at the event; or

· Any information that could assure Canadians that terms of the contract for the event were not altered after the appropriateness of the fundraiser was questioned on the was questioned by blogger Stephen Taylor on May 28, 2008. (http://www.stephentaylor.ca/2008/05/does-the-shamba-foundation-risk-losing-its-charitable-status/)

“We need answers from both Liberal candidate Gerard Kennedy and Liberal donor Anthony Lacavera about their partisan Liberal fundraising,” said Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.

– 30 –

For further information please contact (613) 755-2000

When Globalive’s PR people called me on Friday, I noted the firm’s name and offered to post it to give them credit for doing their job (cleaning up a mess). They said that it wasn’t necessary and that I could just say that Globalive’s PR people contacted me. However, I didn’t put it together at the time but Narrative – a company owned by Bensimon Byrne – made the call of behalf of Globalive/SHAMBA. Bensimon Byrne was the firm contracted to make Liberal Party attack ads during the 2004 and 2006 campaign. The ads (especially the aircraft carrier/teenage girl abortion/disintegrating flag spot) was a particularly – “desperate kind of attempt” – as Gerard Kennedy might say.

When a political fundraiser titled Political Ideals Celebration is held on space that is the raison d’être of a charitable organization and it is billed in this way, alarm bells go off. Did the head of the SHAMBA foundation give permission for the organization’s branding to be used along side that of the Liberal Party, of Gerard Kennedy? Presumably, the head of SHAMBA would have seen the registration form. Being the head of a charitable organization, did he make attempts to change the branding of the event?

According to this article in Business Edge News Magazine,

Asked about the amount of money Globalive invested in Shamba, Lacavera described it as “sizable” and reluctantly put it “well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” adding that it would likely cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to rent out a similar venue for an event.

If Kennedy paid fair market value for the space, did it cost him “tens of thousands of dollars”?