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Same old, same old at the CPC: The Conservative boss hasn't changed -- and he may even be the same guy

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Mike Duffy

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It's tempting, hearing former federal Conservative cabinet heavy Jason Kenney urging his party to reverse its recent membership fee increase, to try to squeeze one more laugh out of the old boss-has-gone-crazy meme.

You know, the advertisement that bellows, "The boss has gone crazy! He's practically giving away Conservative Party memberships!"

The last time we used that old gag, almost two years ago now, Jim Prentice was about to be anointed the boss of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and he really was giving away PC Party memberships to utterly uninterested Albertans. We all know how that ended less than a year later.

Well, that was then and this is now. One change of federal government later and Kenney tells us he believes "a $25 one-year fee would significantly discourage participation" in the Conservative Party now that it's the Opposition. "Particularly from those least inclined to belong in the first place," he explained. Actually, since it was apparently Conservative supporters generally he had in mind, these may not the Canadians least likely to join the Conservatives.

Regardless, Kenney went on, according to news reports, to say the increase from $15 a year "means that many seniors and single parents on modest fixed incomes will see membership as beyond their means and, as a consequence, feel either a deliberate attempt to exclude them or an indication of party indifference or ignorance of their lives."

An image of a party indifferent to the plight of Canadians on fixed incomes sounds about right to me. Nevertheless, one could never accuse the Conservatives under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper of trying to completely exclude anyone with a valid credit card or the slightest inclination to fall for a mean-spirited wedge issue on voting day.

Still, perhaps Kenney is right. Maybe an extra $10 a year per member is the difference between having such folks on the Conservative Party solicitation list and leaving them to satisfy their political urges by writing angry Facebook posts for nothing.

But if you think this means the party is actually changing its focus or approach, you should think again. Certainly, the Conservative response to the acquittal of Senator Mike Duffy on all 31 charges the same day as Kenny was musing about the cost of party membership suggests nothing at all has changed. Including, quite possibly, the real leader.

An account by Bruce Cheadle of the Canadian Press of the Conservative Party's reaction to Ontario Court Judge Charles Vaillancourt’s not-guilty verdict in the Duffy trial illustrates how little reflection is taking place within the Conservative Party.

Among the Conservative politicians Cheadle tried to interview, there was no acknowledgement the party did anything wrong in government. Senior Conservatives who were in cabinet when the manipulations by the Prime Minister's Office that were excoriated by Judge Vaillancourt were going on were all hiding, hunkered down, or slinking out the back door to avoid the press.

Interim Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose, another former Harper government cabinet minister, was nowhere to be found. Kenney himself, said to be a leading contender for the party's leadership, was one of those who shuffled out the back exit. There was no sign of Harper, either, although he remains the MP for Calgary-Heritage and still haunts the Parliamentary precincts.

One sacrificial Conservative MP, Candice Bergen of Manitoba, was trotted out to "respectfully disagree" with the judge. She insisted Harper's problems were only a matter of image and unfair coverage by the media. "It was the narrative because Mr. Harper wasn't the selfie king," she whinged, a weak shot at the winner of the Oct. 19 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"The narrative then was he's controlling, he's a dictator," she said of Harper. "That was the narrative. It wasn't true. He was a strong, strong leader."

And maybe he still is. At any rate, notwithstanding his waning status in what's left of the Conservative caucus, Harper’s continued spectral presence in the halls of the gloomy old pile on the banks of the Ottawa River presumably indicates at least an instinct to ensure another hard-right neoliberal ideologue is chosen as his party's leader.

Knowing what we know about the former PM, as Duffy's lawyer pointed out yesterday, it "strains credulity" that Harper was unaware of the feverish efforts by his henchmen in the PMO to bury the senator's $90,000 assist from chief-of-staff Nigel Wright to pay off his controversial expense claims, and, when that failed, to bury Senator Duffy himself, metaphorically speaking.

The Conservative Party's reaction last week clearly shows it has little capacity yet for reflection, and less inclination to acknowledge responsibility for, let alone correct, the multitude of sins that led to its electoral defeat last fall. Instead, it sounds as if the Conservative strategy going forward will be the same old same old: deny, smear, wedge, manipulate, deny.

Meanwhile, Sen. Duffy is going back to work amid speculation he may soon sue the Government of Canada for three years of back pay. Hard to argue he has no case, under the circumstances. Better just to pay him off and avoid the bill for fighting a foregone legal conclusion, don't you think?

Perhaps, as some have speculated, Harper has merely been keeping under cover of Parliamentary privilege until he could no longer be called as a witness in Sen. Duffy's trial. With that threat now past, perhaps he too can take his leave and let his Conservative Party can finally confront its familiar demons.

Who's reading this stuff, anyway?

Re-reading my 2014 account of leadership candidate Jim Prentice's plan to give away PC Party memberships to Albertans who had no interest in buying them leaves your blogger with the queasy feeling he might be influencing the wrong people.

"This also raises some interesting questions for those of us who don't support the PCs, and never will," I wrote on Aug. 14 that year. "Do we sign up 20,000 leftward leaning Albertans and colonize the party … ?"

As it turns out, after Prentice became premier on Sept. 15, we soon came up with a better idea, viz., electing a real progressive government! Still, the colonizing plan appears to have been picked up others, who apparently lack a sense of irony. Foiled #kudatah plotter George Clark, c’mon down!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.


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