The Conservatives are mounting their own version of a "culture war" as they take on the CBC over allegations of Liberal bias at the taxpayer-subsidized network. And it's getting vicious.
Stephen Harper's campaign director, Doug Finley (who himself is subsidized by the taxpayer as he is married to a cabinet minister and was recently appointed to the Senate) has launched an anti-CBC fundraising campaign, asking for donations to fight the Liberal "vested interests" at the public broadcaster - "a Crown Corporation that receives over one billion dollars per year from taxpayers," he writes.
And then late yesterday, Dean Del Mastro, the Tory MP from Peterborough and parliamentary secretary to the Heritage Minister, put forward a motion to the Commons Heritage committee for a probe into the CBC and its relationship with EKOS pollster Frank Graves.
The genesis of all this was a column by Lawrence Martin in The Globe and Mail last week in which he quoted Mr. Graves saying he had told the Liberals to "invoke a culture war."
"Cosmopolitan versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy" Mr. Graves said. "If the cranky old men in Alberta don't like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin."
(Interestingly, Mr. Graves had given the same advice to the Liberals through a Hill Times article last month. The Tories didn't' pick up on that at the time.)
Now, the problem with all of this is that Mr. Graves is the CBC's pollster - he has said he won a publicly-tendered contract to work for the broadcaster. He appears every week on its Power & Politics program, presenting a new poll and his analysis.
Last week, his comments in The Globe article provoked a testy exchange on the show between him and Kory Teneycke, the former communications director for Stephen Harper and now a paid partisan commentator on CBC.
Addressing the camera directly, Mr. Teneycke declared his Conservative bias and challenged Mr. Graves to declare his Liberal leanings. He noted the EKOS pollster has donated about $10,000 to the Liberals over the past few years and significantly less to the Tories.
The two mixed it up and it made for good television. But the next day, Mr. Graves issued an apology, retracting what he characterized as his "incendiary" comments describing a potential Liberal strategy. He noted, however, he has never worked for the Liberals, is not a member of the Liberal Party and gives advice to all parties through the media.
None of this matters. The Tories are training their guns on the CBC and Mr. Graves appears to be their first victim.
Indeed, a political observer says Mr. Graves is being used as "cannon fodder on their attempt to extinguish the hated CBC. … So much for free speech."
In his fundraising letter, Mr. Finley says Mr. Graves's contributions to the Liberal Party "are huge ($10,762.81 since 2001) and his advice incendiary."
"Graves wants the Ignatieff Liberals to wage a divisive 'Culture War' that would pit East against West, young against old, and urban Canada against rural Canada. He even suggests that if people don't like the Ignatieff Liberal vision of Canada they can move to the United States (an odd statement given Michael Ignatieff's fondness for America)."
The Tory senator asserts this latest episode with the CBC "demonstrates - once again - that we Conservatives are up against a powerful array of vested interests. Vested interests who want to go back to the days of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Back to higher taxes. Back to a weakened military. Back to political correctness. And they're willing to support a highly divisive 'Culture War' to take us back."
He says the party needs money to fight this; supporters are also encouraged to write to the CBC and "tell them it's unacceptable to present Frank Graves as a neutral pollster on party politics."
Meanwhile, Mr. Del Mastro's motion is to be voted on this afternoon at the Heritage committee.
"Graves's comments were pretty offensive to rural and western Canadians," Mr. Del Mastro told The Globe this morning. "And basically he indicated that conservatives (MPs and supporters) are bigots."
The Tory MP suggests, too, that Mr. Ignatieff is taking that advice. "Both Graves and the CBC have some explaining to do."