Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of CBC The National’s “At Issue” panel and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He writes a weekly digital column for The Globe and Mail.
In his farewell speech to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro revealed much about what make him tick.
No doubt he intended that viewers would sense an innocent man was being railroaded. No doubt a few did. But perhaps only a few.
In the course of his speech, the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister reminded us of his trademark garrulous bluster – a style that had brought cheer to the Prime Minister’s Office and jeers in the House of Commons.
In a 14-minute listing of his virtues, Mr. Del Mastro mentioned with pride that he had “no reverse gear,” and that anyone expecting him to back down on anything had misunderstood what stuff he was made of.
This point illuminated why he so well fit the role of a “burner MP,” one willing to cheerfully surrender his credibility to be spent by his political masters, and on cheap political points at that. As most regular people know, when you make a wrong turn, or find yourself in a dead end, sometimes a reverse gear is pretty useful.
While maintaining that he was completely innocent of the charges, he went out of his way to say that even if he had been guilty, his breach of the election spending rules had nothing to do with his victories. As though he could possibly know this. As though others should possibly care.
This was another moment in the retreat from standards of honour we’ve seen too often in modern political combat. That there was even a day of uncertainty about whether an MP convicted of a crime should remain in Parliament says something, and not a good something.
Mr. Del Mastro asked for his day in court, vowed that he would be exonerated, and had a fair trial. A judge found him guilty and he treated his conviction as he used to treat questions raised in the House of Commons: with ridicule.
There was a time when the response to the court’s ruling would have been an immediate resignation, with an apology to constituents and fellow parliamentarians. Or, at a minimum, a statement of respectful disagreement with the outcome and a hope that appeal might recover a good name and rebuild public trust.
Instead, Mr. Del Mastro shrugged and belittled, trademark moves he had honed in the House, but in this case unwisely aimed at a judge.
Mr. Del Mastro seemed surprised, but shouldn’t have been, that opposition MPs were unwilling to spend any of their political capital to save his skin. There was never any evidence that he would have done the same thing for any of them. As Paul McCartney wrote “and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make”: good words to live by, and a useful way of thinking about how politics works too.
But possibly his greater surprise lay in the unwillingness of many of his Conservative Party colleagues to stand by him. In truth, if they had any instinct to do so, he did pretty much everything possible to make that impossible.
He has many friends in his party. Some of them may have been tempted to support him more forcefully, but he pretty much destroyed any chance of that when he characterized his conviction as a mere matter of “opinion.”
For a party that has invested so much in law-and-order branding, a “tough on crime” point of view – this was rhetoric they couldn’t associate with. Even if they happened to believe Del Mastro’s defence, evidence that the judge dismissed as “incredible,” they could not afford to stand with him in undermining the justice system.
This is a government with a chance to win re-election, but at least as good a chance of being dismissed. With less than 365 days left until that judgment is rendered, Conservatives can ill afford to add burdens to their load. His intemperate remarks about the judge made it inevitable that they would prefer more distance from him.
In bidding farewell to the House, Mr. Del Mastro mentioned a feeling of “humility.” It was a fleeting reference. It seemed out of context with the rest of the speech. And while not wishing to be unkind, it seemed, well “incredible.”Report Typo/Error
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