There’s a curious dynamic being played out in political Ottawa when it comes to Bob Dechert, the beleaguered and embarrassed Conservative MP.
While the New Democrats wasted no time in calling for his resignation, questioning whether national security has been breached, the Liberals are being more circumspect and refusing to join in the pile-on.
According to a senior Liberal MP, the third party does not believe that Canada’s national security was compromised by Mr. Dechert’s amorous e-mail exchanges with a female journalist working for China’s state-run news agency.
It’s not the first or last time someone did something silly, the MP told The Globe. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper is notorious for not sharing information with even his ministers, so why would he tell Mr. Dechert secrets, the Liberal added.
As a result, the Grits won’t be raising the issue in the House when Parliament resumes next week after its summer break – unless new and more incendiary information comes out.
Mr. Dechert, a Mississauga Tory MP and parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, has admitted to a flirtatious email relationship with Shi Rong, the Toronto correspondent for Beijing’s Xinhua News Agency. But he maintains their relationship was innocent – Mr. Baird and the government have stood by him, saying he will remain in his post.
Given that Western counter-intelligence agencies view Xinhua with a high degree of suspicion, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar says the government’s stand is unacceptable.
“He holds an important portfolio which requires professionalism and discretion,” Mr. Dewar told The Globe. “Unfortunately, this has devolved into a distraction. The right thing to do is for him to step aside from his portfolio until this incident can be properly investigated,” he said.
The Liberals have adopted an entirely different strategy.
Interim Leader Bob Rae has repeatedly refused to comment on the issue. On Sunday at a concert in Ottawa commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Rae told The Globe he was not going to weigh in on the affair and he has refused to return subsequent e-mail requests on the matter.
Other Liberal MPs have carefully chosen their words. John McCallum, for example, has said that Mr. Dechert “exhibited poor judgment” but he did not call for his resignation. “My own view is that if we are continuously calling for resignations at every misstep, we devalue the message,” Mr. McCallum told The Globe Wednesday morning.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Dominic LeBlanc did not call for Mr. Dechert’s head either. On CBC’s Power and Politics Tuesday, he also called this a “personal embarrassment” for the Tory MP but said he should not have to resign.
“Mr. Dechert clearly showed some lapse in judgment,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “Our view however is at the end of the day the Prime Minister has to take responsibility for issues of national security. ... Mr. Harper has to investigate and satisfy himself there was in fact no breach of security and no compromising of foreign relations.”
A happy coincidence for a jocular Conservative
Defence Minister Peter MacKay is taking a break from the situation in Libya to enjoy his favourite sport – he’s in Whangarei, New Zealand, for the Rugby World Cup.
The trip is on Wellington’s tab. And he’s also doing some work on defence issues between New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Thank goodness he is there as he was able to represent the Harper government in congratulating Canada’s team Wednesday on their upset victory over Tonga. It was Canada’s opening match and they beat Tonga 25 to 20.
A veteran rugby source says Mr. MacKay went into the Canadian dressing room after the match and that he was very well received by the team.
Industry Minister Tony Clement, who also appears to be following the tournament from Canada, took to Twitter to gloat: “ Eat our dust, Tonga.”
Asked about the genesis of Mr. MacKay’s trip, spokesman Jay Paxton said his boss is “engaging in high-level discussions with Australia and New Zealand on defence, and specifically, defence transformation issues.”
“The goal of these discussions is to find efficiencies in the defence budget in order to save Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while ensuring that front line troops and their families have the support they need to do the jobs asked of them,” he explained.
Mr. Paxton noted that “while in New Zealand, Minister MacKay is a guest of government which means New Zealand is bearing all costs relating to in-country transportation and accommodation.”
The New Zealand government also invited the Prime Minister, as the Rugby World Cup is one of the largest sporting events in the world. According to the New Zealand Herald, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were also invited.