First of all, let me say that this is absolutely, unforgiveably, completely beyond the pale in a democracy. Sun News is to be heartily congratulated for coming forward with it. On the other hand, even in being honest they manage to be far, far too charitable to the Harper Conservatives.
The news, in case you haven’t seen it yet, is that Harper’s campaign team attempted to plant a story in the papers about how Michael Ignatieff was covertly working on the front lines in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The centrepiece of the story was a picture supposedly of Ignatieff, in military kit, posing with some soldiers in front of a helicopter. But the picture isn’t real. Or rather, it is real, but it’s not Ignatieff. It’s someone who looked vaguely like Ignatieff, so they decided to pass it off to the press as part of this fabricated story. It didn’t work. Sun News went public with the fraud. But there are at least four huge problems so far, and frankly any one of them is frightening.
Number one is the complete hypocrisy of the scheme. I remember 2003 very well. Harper supported the invasion of Iraq. He supported it so firmly that his office team worried that his opposition to intervention in Rwanda might look inconsistent next to his new support for the invasion of Iraq. Harper said there was “no doubt” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — which turned out be completely wrong. Now he’s trying to frame his opponent for supporting the war, knowing that Canadians never liked the war to begin with. Ironically, if Harper had managed to get a picture of himself on the front lines back in 2003, he’d have thought it great publicity.
Second, though, is the obvious stupidity of the allegation. Arguing that Ignatieff is an American covert agent plays into the Conservative conspiracy theory about how “he didn’t come back for you,” but it would be pathetically easy to disprove, wouldn’t it? All he has to do is find one piece of evidence that he was not in fact, racing around the front lines at the time. It would be Canada’s own version of the Obama birth certificate conspiracy theory, and as much as the Tea Party base seems to love the ravings of lunatics like Donald Trump and Glenn Beck, the Birther movement more or less flounded even in mainstream America, which is much more right-wing and paranoid than the Canadian mainstream.
This leads to the third problem: why? Sun president Pierre-Karl Peladeau says the scheme was so silly that it was obviously an attempt to “damage the integrity and credibility” of Sun TV, aka Fox News North, aka The Channel That Plagiarizes Wikipedia. I’m not convinced, though, because Peladeau’s account leaves out one clear and obvious detail: their source, Patrick Muttart, was until this week a Harper campaign official. Peladeau describes him only as a former staffer, but that’s hard to believe. Muttart worked on the 2006 and 2008 campaigns. Now his day job involves lobbying in America, for a company called Mercury. But he’s still involved with Canadian politics, obviously.
I don’t believe Peladeau’s conspiracy theory. It’s beyond plausibility that the first openly conservative news channel in Canada would be immediately and deliberately sabotaged by the Conservative Party. It’s even more implausible given the string of former Harper officials who moved over to lead the Sun operation, like Kory Teneycke. Muttart has his own connection to Sun, by the way. According to Impolitical, one of his former subordinates in Harper’s office, Dennis Matthews, is now a manager at Sun TV. And these are just two names on a lengthy list. So no, I don’t believe that Sun TV would be sabotaged by the government.
It certainly is possible that the news was supposed to be a headline for the new Sun TV channel. After all, Peladeau says Muttart first made contact three weeks ago. This raises the disturbing question of where the information came from. Muttart claimed to have another “U.S. source.” That source would be someone with access to military pictures and information. So now we are expected to believe not only that someone in the Harper team went rogue with this project, but that someone in the American armed forces did, too. That’s the fourth problem.
All in all, it’s a mystery. I’m actually left to suspect that the story may be at least partially true, even if the picture isn’t. Introduced late in the campaign, it might have been a jolt to Liberal credibility that lasted long enough for voters to get to the ballot box before proof emerged that it was false, at which point the Tories would be in government and it would be too late.
But if that were the case, why make the centrepiece of your file a fake photo? Peladeau’s account of events suggests that the Tories knew it was a fake photo, and tried to conceal that by sending a grainy thumbnail image rather than the original high-quality picture. An even more twisted conspiracy theory is that the Tories and Sun TV conspired together on this one, to make it seem as though Sun really is independent (Look! We examine even government sources critically!) But that’s even more outlandish. So we’re left with a puzzle.
One thing is absolutely certain, however. A Conservative official connected to Harper has approached the media with a fake package of material, peddling a lie about what Ignatieff was doing during the invasion of Iraq. This is much, much worse than just taking five questions a day or making the media wait behind a security fence. When you go to the ballot box next week, remember how far the Tories are willing to go to hold on to power. Remember that they are willing to lie to you, to Parliament, and to the world if they think it serves their interests.
And remember that the next time Harper tells you that Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton are only in it for the power.Tweet