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Smart thinking

JOHN MORRISS

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

At first glance, it’s beyond bizarre. Members of Parliament, at public expense, sending letters to constituents recommending how to vote in a Canadian Wheat Board director election (see page ). What were they thinking?

A recent “blog” by Globe and Mail columnist Robert Silver provides a possible explanation. He says the word on the street is that July 31, 2007 was one of the Conservatives’ biggest fund-raising days ever. In case you’ve forgotten, that was the day that a judge overturned the government’s decision to remove the board’s authority for export and malting barley sales. Even the most strident wheat board opponents had quietly agreed that the legal grounds for that were pretty flimsy, just one of a series of “What were they thinking?” episodes ranging from firing the board’s president to making loopy comments about CWB supporters wearing tin hats and decoder rings.

What were they thinking? Mr. Silver suggests they were thinking that this wheat board issue is a darn good way to make money.

When the judge overturned the decision, the Conservatives fired off a message to their supporters. “An unelected, Liberal judge has stopped our efforts to bring freedom and democracy to farmers in Western Canada, send us $100 today so we can continue our fight…”

In short, the longer that the Conservatives continue to stir the pot, the longer they can keep getting people angry enough to fire off another cheque, a technique they have mastered. Indeed, the same day that the latest wheat board stunt blew up in the House of Commons, the Conservatives announced they would introduce legislation to rescind the government payments to political parties based on the number of votes in the previous election. That was introduced by the Liberals in 2003 when they passed legislation to end large corporate and union donations to political parties.

Perhaps the Conservatives can say “touché” – they’ve managed to raise far more than the Liberals who introduced the policy. But ethics aside, it seems they will go to just about any length to stir the pot and loosen the wallet.

Consider gun control. Even diehard wheat board supporters are so fired up about that one that they continue to vote Conservative. But what have the Conservatives done to end gun control? Nothing. Gun owners are still getting those annoying renewal letters, which are probably making plenty of people grumpy enough to fire off another cheque to the Conservatives, who have neatly maintained that perception that this aggravating policy is a Liberal holdover that minority status prevents them from fixing.

Prime Minister Harper has known for some time that the wheat board issue is a good one to raise a few bucks. Before becoming party leader, his last job was president of the National Citizen’s Coalition (NCC), an organization that specializes in finding hot button issues to make you angry enough to send a cheque. “Stop the free speech police.” “Stand up for free speech – stop Alberta’s gag law.”“End the CanadianWheat Board monopoly.” Mr. Harper had a field day with the wheat board issue during his time at the NCC, putting up billboards and buying radio ads to protest this injustice.

Which is what NCC does – put up billboards and radio ads to make you angry enough to send money. What else do they do with that money?

If you could join the NCC, as you can with many advocacy organizations, you would probably know that. But you can’t join. You can just send money. The NCC proudly proclaims that “We are unlike any other advocacy groups. We do not accept any government funding and we do not lobby politicians or bureaucrats.” That means NCC does not even accept the taint of status that would allow your donation to be tax deductible. That noble stance also relieves it of any obligation to disclose its financial affairs.

This from an organization that rails against lack of accountability in government.

Mr. Harper has now moved on to a party whose roots lie in western Canadian disenchantment with a political system which was seen to be overly controlled by the prime minister and his cronies in a bloated cabinet, and which prevented individual Members of Parliament from speaking their minds. We now have the largest cabinet in history, and MPs who dare not step out of line for fear of retribution from the Prime Minister’s Office.

At time of writing, David Anderson, one of the MPs who improperly used his position and public money to influence the wheat board election, still had his position as parliamentary secretary. That’s a clear indication that the prime minister not only supports the impropriety, but likes having an attack dog like Mr. Anderson to keep the pot stirred.

And if you’re one of those who wants the CWB monopoly ended, angry enough to keep supporting the Conservatives with your vote and your money – consider this:

If they really end the monopoly, you won’t be angry any more, will you?

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