The Bruce Carson story, involving a former, senior Harper advisor who managed to hook up with not one but two escort mistresses, is rich with irony. Conservatives in their previous incarnation as the Reform Party claimed they would clean up corruption on Indian reserves. When he was a Reform MP, John Duncan in particular made this his cause celebre. But as Minister for Indian Affairs in Harper's government, Duncan has been caught up in the Carson scandal.
In the fall of 2010, after Duncan had been named Minister for Indian Affairs, top officials in his department had four meetings with Carson to hear his pitch for H2O Global Group. This company had been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell water filtration equipment to First Nations. Then in January 2011 Duncan's ministerial aides met with Carson to hear him promote this scheme. According to an interview he did with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), Carson saw these meetings as a way to exploit the connections he had developed in the Harper government to the benefit of H2O. This strategy seemed to be working.
Patrick Hill, head of H2O Global, said the company's efforts to get First Nations contracts seemed to be going nowhere until Carson started promoting them. Carson complained to APTN about a logjam in the bureaucracy blocking H2O's proposal, one that he was going to break by meeting personally with Tory decision makers -- including g the prime minister.
The kind of special access Carson was given and the sleaze -- a 20 per cent cut going to Carson's escort girlfriend -- associated with the contracts would have had Duncan crying "corruption" if it been done by an Indian band rather than his own aides, the department he headed, and a Tory "fixer." Every dime of the millions that would have gone to Carson's girlfriend represents money that would have been diverted from the urgent needs of people living on First Nations reserves.
The Reform Party with Duncan as its Indian Affairs critic constantly went after band councils, describing them as "undemocratic, unaccountable and unresponsive to the people they are supposed to serve." Duncan once called for the resignation of the Nisga'a treaty negotiator because he was affiliated with a company that might indirectly benefit from a land claim settlement. Duncan demanded that the negotiator be "squeaky clean." In 1995, Duncan tried to blame the Liberal government over fraud committed by a Metis association, even though the government had cut off funding to the association four years earlier. Duncan denounced this Metis group as "a haven for patronage, cronyism and grossly irresponsible spending."
But "cronyism" is exactly the word that leaps to mind in the Carson affair. Listen to Carson in his interview with APTN boast about how he was going to "hang this [the H2O contracts] on the environment part of the Canada school." The Canada school refers to an incredible patronage deal Carson got from the Harper government as the head of the Canada School of Energy and the Environment. It was handed a $15 million grant from the federal government, which Carson was going to access to push a sideline project that stood to benefit his girlfriend. Carson has no energy or environmental expertise, prompting Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons to ask why "it took a cause celebre involving an Ottawa call girl to get us wondering how Carson got those posts in the first place."
When the Carson story broke in March, Duncan's public relations director Michelle Yao rejected criticism by saying Duncan was not personally present at meetings where Carson promoted H2O Global and in any case Duncan's staff "regularly attend meetings with a variety of individuals and stakeholders." Carson got to meet with Kym Purchase, Duncan's director of policy, and Ted Yeomans, his director of parliamentary affairs.
But what qualified Carson as a "stakeholder" in the issue of supplying clean water to First Nations communities? How does an individual with no expertise to offer get to command the time of senior ministerial and departmental staff for his pet projects? Carson's entry card was that he's known Harper for two decades, knows Duncan "very well," and has such insider access that he knew of Duncan's appointment to Indian Affairs before it was announced.
As for the ethics of Tory staff agreeing to listen to the sales pitch of someone who so recently worked in the Prime Minister's Office, Yao waived this off, saying lobbying questions should be directed to Carson and the Commissioner of Lobbying. The focus was shifted to the person seeking the unethical access rather than the officials granting it. Duncan claimed his staff did everything "by the book" and he had no concerns. In other words, if Duncan is re-elected, we can count on this kind of thing happening again.
And if the Tories win a majority, you can expect Duncan to push hard for one of his long standing hobby horses, the private ownership of reserve land. The Reform Party used to denounce common ownership of land on reserves as "socialism." First Nations leaders have pointed to the experience of tribes in the U.S. who put up their privatized land as collateral and then lost it in disastrous ventures. But for the Bruce Carsons of the world, private ownership of reserve land would provide a wealth of opportunities for making money off of First Nations.
Three weeks to save the country
The debates are over and it seems neither of the two major parties in English-speaking Canada achieved a breakthrough, though the NDP got a big bump in the daily Nanos poll for CTV and G&M. The numbers are amazingly stable and the outcome of the election will likely be determined (barring some major gaffe by someone)by two factors: the voter turnout and the extent to which people pay attention to the call for strategic voting in key ridings across the country.
This time around, however, there are three different political sites advising people on which ridings are "key' swing ridings, each based on somewhat different criteria.
Check them all out and see what they have to say about voting in your riding.
There is something really encouraging abut this election that wasn't clear at the beginning: lots of independent and creative efforts are being made to expose Harper and to get people to vote, a necessary combination if we are to rid the country of this mean-spirited dictator.
Then there's a great comic book version of Harper's record for those needed a few visual aids. It's very well done and well-researched.
A couple of other sites worth visiting are Rick Mercer's rant/appeal to young people to get out and vote -- which has apparently had an amazing effect with students on various campuses have taken him up on it.
Lastly, for today in any case, an excellent antidote to the "people don't vote because they are selfish, stupid and lazy" mantra. Toronto activist Dave Meslin disposes of this argument in under eight minutes. It's brilliant. Take a look.