This morning the RCMP’s Public Complaints Commission is scheduled to release the results of its probe into the bombshell that rocked the last election: the RCMP’s mid-election fax to the NDP’s Judy Wasylycia-Leis confirming the force was investigating Finance Minister Ralph Goodale’s office vis a vis the income trust leak.
While the revelation was a body blow to the Liberal campaign, and sparked a media feeding frenzy, you’ll recall in the end Goodale was exonerated. And the Conservatives flip-flopped on income trusts, breaking a clear and firm promise.
Macleans.ca’s Kady O’Malley is surprised at the lack of media attention to the investigation by commission chair Paul Kennedy into whether the disclosure constituted unfair interference in the democratic process:
At the same time, I've been somewhat surprised by how little interest his decision to investigate the allegations has generated in the media - back when it was first announced a little more than a year ago, but last month, when it was revealed that the RCMP had prepared a communications strategy surrounding possible charges against an unnamed political staffer, which eventually failed to transpire.
I’m not surprised myself. If there’s one thing the media is loathe to do it’s to admit, or even hint, that they may have been wrong. They were all over Goodale and the Liberals on this during the last election. They’re certainly not going to give much ink to a story that could indicate their fervor was misplaced. Once they decide on a narrative it will take a tsunami to push them off it. Picture the kid with their fingers in their ears crying “la la la.”
And for the record, no matter what Kennedy reports today, the infamous income trusts fax did not cost the Liberals the last election. Sure didn’t help. But we lost the last election for a multitude of reasons I’ve already explored at length. So no wondering what might have been, please.
Instead, our eyes should be looking forward. And at our own fax machines, lest any Cadman Affair-related faxes be coming from the serge-coated ones.
UPDATE: The report is out, and I'm still not overly surprised:
The RCMP didn't break any rules when it announced a criminal investigation into the federal Finance Department in the middle of the 2005-06 election campaign, because there were no rules to break, concludes a report by the RCMP's watchdog.
Well that about sums it up doesn’t it? It’s kind of hard to break the rules when there are no rules.
Kennedy goes on:
"Given the absence of any such specific policy, procedures or guidelines, (Kennedy) could not find that any RCMP officer failed to comply with applicable standards," according to a press release accompanying the report.
Kennedy said the Mounties' policies are "inadequate" to deal with situations where public disclosure of a police investigation may have an impact on a democratic process.
Now the debate will be should there be policies for such situations? Actually I think we all agree there should be a policy of some sort so the question is, really, what should the policy be?
Because if we’re to ensure there isn’t a hint of politicization in these things there needs to be a clearly defined policy that the RCMP follows in all cases. It can’t be left to the whim of the commissioner or individual officers.
I don’t think disclosure of an ongoing investigation should be treated any differently then any other investigation just because it involves public figures, or comes during an election campaign. Whatever rules apply to the disclosure of investigations involving non-public figures should also apply here.
And I’m pretty sure faxing MPs isn’t normal procedure, and calling them repeatedly to make sure they got it, isn’t normal procedure.
UPDATED AGAIN: The Globe’s coverage has some interesting revelations:
Former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli changed a press release on the force's investigation into an income-trust leak to include the name of then Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale…
“Mr. Zacardelli directed that a media release be prepared… This release was amended upon Commissioner Zaccardelli's direction to include the name of Mr. Goodale.”
A very telling move for the commissioner of the RCMP to take, in the midst of an election campaign, and certainly one that puts his motives into question. Kennedy says he has no evidence Zaccardelli’s decision was politically motivated. Of course, Zaccardelli wasn’t exactly cooperative, so a lack of evidence is unsurprising:
Mr. Kennedy said that Mr. Zaccardelli and several senior members of the RCMP policy centre, which was responsible for the conduct and communication of the income-trust investigation, refused to provide him with any information about the disclosure.
Why did they not cooperate? Can they not be compelled to cooperate? I’d suggest Parliamentary committee hearings, but it would quickly become politicized, despite the fact these are important issues that should be resolved.
Also of note:
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He also noted that the RCMP has no policy on notifying complainants when an investigation is initiated into a complaint.
Which means the RCMP decided that, for some reason, it was particularly important we know about this particular investigation. All the more reason for a formal policy.