Friday, January 22, 2010

On possible outcomes

Having quoted Murray Mandryk's latest this morning, I'll take some time to deal with his somewhat more questionable column from yesterday on the effects of the RCMP's decision to charge Ernest Morin for (as Mandryk prefers to describe it) his "alleged criminal activity" in signing up the members of the Flying Dust and Waterhen Lake First Nations without their consent.

Off the top, it would seem obvious enough that to the extent the Morin story stays in the news, the result figures to be a negative one for the NDP - no matter how exemplary or correct the party's response to Morin's activities may have been. And I won't pretend that the apparent agreement between the NDP's investigation and the RCMP's changes that fact.

But there's a glaring disconnect between the issues which Mandryk seems to want to see discussed further, and the possible content of any Morin trial. Here's Mandryk on what he thinks a trial would involve:
But such a trial would also produce a lot of collateral damage to both Lingenfelter and the party -- damage that the aforementioned NDP sanitized version of the "controversy" isn't now talking about.

Was it really the Lingenfelter camp that first came clean on the membership "controversy" or was it those in rival camps that brought it to light? Why did no one in Lingenfelter's camp notice the alleged forgeries? Why did they simply forward them to party head office, and why did Lingenfelter's camp attach $10 and $20 bills to each membership application instead of writing one cheque?
Now, there's room to argue as to which of those questions have already been answered by the Hale report. But I'm not sure there can be much room for argument as to whether there's any likelihood of a Morin trial shedding any further light on the subject.

After all, in making out a case against Morin, what reason would the Crown have to call evidence about what happened as the membership forms were processed by the campaign office? Or about the NDP's subsequent investigation? Simply put, any "criminal activities" being alleged of Morin were complete at the point when the membership forms went from his hands to the Lingenfelter campaign.

In effect, there's no reason why either side would be expected to delve into subsequent events if they're focused on what a trial would actually be oriented toward proving or disproving. And likewise, any plea agreement by Morin would seem to involve only the facts as to what Morin did - not any further information about the responses by the Lingenfelter campaign and the party.

From that starting point, any actual talk about the questions raised by Mandryk as a result of the charges would have to be based on Morin fighting the charges and choosing to use a trial as a soapbox to point fingers elsewhere. But there's little apparent reason why he'd choose to do that now after keeping quiet while the matter was being investigated before - both by the NDP initially, and by the RCMP in the course of deciding whether or not to lay charges.

Of course, it's undoubtedly true that the Sask Party will want to keep up as much speculation as it can surrounding the events which wouldn't be addressed at trial, and they'll have a more ready excuse to do so if the charges offer an opportunity to raise the issue in the media. And the NDP may have reason for concern if Mandryk is signalling that he plans to join in.

But the answers to the questions which actually have some bearing on the NDP as a party have long been in the books. The party investigated immediately and made the results public; Lingenfelter chose not to punish anybody involved for the oversight issues raised by Hale, and won the approval of a majority of the party's leadership voters even with that fact known.

So the biggest question surrounding any idle speculation about the membership controversy is whether it'll be allowed to take the province's focus away from more important issues about how it's currently being governed and wants to be governed in the future. (Say, has anybody thought to ask Bill Boyd just how it was that he had no clue what he was supposed to be testifying about last fall? Or is mere cabinet incompetence something that doesn't merit follow-up?) And while it's indeed hard to see any positive outcome for the NDP in that event, it's equally difficult to see the province as a whole being better off either.

(Edit: fixed typo, wording.)

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