Monday, January 15, 2007

On ruthlessness

There's been some talk today about the questionable financial arrangements between Wajid Khan and the Libs' Mississauga-Streetsville riding association. But I haven't seen any commentary on what seems to be the more important part of the story - which is that thanks to the combined effect of the timing of the party switch and the way in which his loyalists ran the riding association previously, Khan left the Libs helpless to start rebuilding in the riding for at least some time afterward:
Elections Canada revoked the legal registration of new Conservative MP Wajid Khan's former Liberal riding association in December because it failed to file financial returns for 2004 and 2005, the Ottawa Citizen has learned...

An Elections Canada spokesman did not comment on the details of the financial returns, but said the association's registration had been revoked as of the end of 2006 because the returns had not been filed well beyond their deadlines of May 31, 2005, for the 2004 period, and May 31, 2006, for the 2005 period.

"The Mississauga-Streetsville federal Liberal association was deregistered effective Dec. 31, 2006," said spokesman Stephane Bachand. "It is still deregistered. They can apply to be registered again."

Mr. Bachand said Elections Canada finally received the returns Jan. 7. They were postmarked Dec. 30, but the deadline for deregistration had already been given.

An unregistered riding association may continue some informal activities, but cannot accept contributions or provide goods or services or transfer funds to a candidate or to registered parties or other associations.
Needless to say, the timing could offer some explanation as to why Khan may have waited until after the new year to make the jump. Khan and his supporters could easily have seen a benefit in leaving the riding association in disarray (both in the damaging contents of the returns, and in the real risk that the riding association would be de-registered) if they knew that a party switch was imminent. Meanwhile, the last-minute submission of the returns would offer some deniability to the former executive.

So why aren't Lib bloggers up in arms over the possibility that Khan and his cronies engaged in a scorched-earth strategy before crossing to the Cons? It's possible that some just haven't looked at the issue all that closely, or that they're genuinely more interested in the financial matters (which would seem to implicate the riding association itself at least as much as Khan) than the fact that the riding association itself may have been sabotaged by Khan's departure.

But it seems more likely that they recognize that their own party could have done plenty to anticipate and avoid the problem. After all, Khan's announcement that he planned to serve as Harper's adviser was met with ample concern that his future affiliation with the Libs was in doubt. And in light of that suspicion, there's no apparent reason why somebody wouldn't have checked out the current state of the riding association and pressured Khan's loyalists to either submit their returns in time to avoid deregistration, or at least decide on their future sooner to enable somebody else to carry out the task.

Instead, the Libs appear to have done nothing while one of their riding associations was run into the ground. And as a result, a riding which presumably has no lack of Libs motivated to defeat Khan is unable to take direct donations or otherwise act in response to his defection. Which gives Khan (who moves to a riding association facing no similar difficulties) a significant head start on whoever his Lib opponent turns out to be...making it all the more clear that the Libs won't be able to treat Mississauga-Streetsville as a safe seat.

The goings-on in Mississauga-Streetsville may play into a U.S. Democrat (circa 2004)-like image which the Libs want to avoid: that confronted by Khan's (and the Cons') pursuit of power over principle, they've limited themselves to a meek PR-based defence while failing to take even the most basic substantive steps to prevent real internal losses. But while admitting and learning from Khan's defection could be painful, the Libs will be even worse off if they try to pretend the incident never happened and leave themselves open to similar incidents in the future - which could lead to the party losing far more than a mere riding association.

(Edit: fixed wording, typo.)

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