A new survey about the Senate expense scandal should be ringing alarm bells within Conservative party circles.
The Ekos Research poll — published in iPolitics — suggests that Canadians believe that the Senate expense scandal is “more serious” than the Liberal Party sponsorship scandal of the early 2000s.
Specifically, respondents were asked “how would you rate the overall seriousness” of the recent government episodes.
Here’s how they responded:
The 2013 Senate Expense Scandal
Very serious: 75 per cent
Somewhat serious: 12 per cent
Not serious: 11 per cent
The 2011 Robocall Scandal
Very serious: 73 per cent
Somewhat serious: 11 per cent
Not serious: 12 per cent
The 2004 Sponsorship Scandal
Very serious: 65 per cent
Somewhat serious: 16 per cent
Not serious: 10 per cent
It’s widely believed that the sponsorship scandal — which involved the diversion of federal advertising dollars to Liberal staffers — was one of the key factors that ended Paul Martin’s Liberal government in 2006.
Accountability and ethics issues are usually what bring governments down. Voters can easily relate to these types of issues more than they can relate to a trade deal with Europe, for example.
The electorate can forgive a bad policy but they have trouble forgetting about a lie or a financial maleficence.
So, will the Senate expense scandal be the Tories’ sponsorship scandal?
The dollar amounts are certainly very different: The sponsorship scandal involved millions of dollars in misappropriated funds whereas the Senate expense scandal involves a few hundred thousand dollars — most of which has been paid back.
In May, when stories first surfaced about Nigel Wright — the prime minister’s former chief of staff — gifting $90,000 to Sen Mike Duffy, former Conservative MP Paul Forseth argued that there was no comparison.
“This affair is not anywhere near the sponsorship scandal, as that was a planned complicated scheme involving many players, to commit outright fraud,” Forseth told Yahoo Canada News.
“The PM did what was available to him. The Senators are out of the Conservative Caucus. The over-payments are being pursued and paid back…for sure. It is like an EI overpayment…it will be recouped. The clarity of administrative rules have already been fixed.”
While all that may be true, Ekos — and other pollsters — are indicating that, five months later, it hasn’t been enough.
There is a growing perception that Harper is misleading Canadians. The narrative has become that ‘the prime minister is either lying and knew about the $90,000 payment to cover Duffy’s expenses or he’s incompetent because he didn’t know what was going on in his own office.’
Either scenario is a problem for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.