Dean Del Mastro was part of Fight Club. He did what was deemed necessary, and never gave an inch.
That's the way the Peterborough MP played his former role as the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary. Later, facing elections-law charges, he criticized a witness in the Commons and refused to talk to investigators. On Friday, a judge rejected his testimony and convicted him of exceeding election-spending limits and submitting a falsified document.
Although Mr. Del Mastro, as the PM's spokesman stressed, left the Conservative caucus when he was charged last year, it's still a party scandal. Prime Minister Stephen Harper can't be blamed for the MP's actions, but Mr. Del Mastro was once his pit bull, part of his Fight Club – and not the first one who crossed a line.
This embarrassment comes at a particularly bad time for Mr. Harper, too, just as he seemed to be regaining political momentum, and one day after he announced a series of pre-election tax cuts.
It comes in a particularly devastating form, too. Exceeding campaign-spending limits is serious enough, but the court found he fraudulently attempted to cover it up.
Mr. Del Mastro was accused of spending $21,000 on voter-ID services for the 2008 election campaign from a now-defunct company called Holinshed Research – money that would have put his campaign $19,000 over the spending limit. The company's president, Frank Hall, said Mr. Del Mastro asked him to backdate invoices so it would seem the spending was outside the campaign period. Mr. Del Mastro, who paid the sum with a personal cheque, said it was for software unrelated to the campaign.
Ontario Court Judge Lisa Cameron said she didn't believe the MP. He obfuscated the evidence. He not only wrote the cheque for election expenses, he submitted a falsified document, then wasn't entirely honest on the stand, she said. She found him guilty.
"That's her opinion," Mr. Del Mastro said outside the courthouse. "My opinion is quite different."
Of course, this isn't political spin. Mr. Del Mastro can't just say the judge is wrong and the people elected him – even if that is what he said on Friday. Unless he appeals the verdict, and wins, he will lose his seat, and faces a potential jail sentence. His lawyer didn't say whether he will appeal, and now the Speaker of the Commons is considering whether and how his seat might be forfeited.
In Ottawa and on Twitter, some opponents and critics reacted with unconcealed glee that went beyond ordinary partisanship.
Mr. Del Mastro, especially as Mr. Harper's parliamentary secretary from 2011 to 2013, galled many, rebuffing opposition questions on such matters as robocalls with denials and pat lines and attacks on the questioners.
He was given that job because he would do it. But it was the job he was given. He did it in much the same way as predecessor Pierre Poilievre and the MP who succeeded him, Paul Calandra. They all displayed singular disregard for the issues and sheer partisan combativeness. That's what Mr. Harper's government wants from them.
Mr. Poilievre was promoted to a junior minister's post; Mr. Calandra recently had to apologize for pit-bull responses to a serious question about war. When you spend so much time in Fight Club, you forget where the line is.
Of course, most Conservatives aren't like that. But Mr. Harper has a habit of employing bare-knucklers, and there's a sense messy jobs must get done. Some have crossed lines, of judgment or law.
His onetime communications director, Dimitri Soudas, who sometimes played hardball in the party and with the press gallery, lost his job as party director for helping his fiancée, MP Eve Adams, with a nomination battle. Nigel Wright, the former chief of staff known for professionalism, was foiled by writing a $90,000 cheque to quiet the Mike Duffy scandal. Even Mr. Duffy was there for a task, to raise money, and was occasionally trotted out to attack an opposition MP.
Mr. Del Mastro? He was convicted for something he did before he became the PM's parliamentary secretary, back in the 2008 election. As it turns out, he clobbered his Liberal opponent by 9,000 votes. It seems it was just his instinct to fight by any means, without worrying too much about crossing a line.