Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ford, Duffy and Chinese scandals

Having been educated in China, and subsequently spending more than 30 years there on and off, I have read a lot of Chinese newspaper reports spinning a convoluted but compelling narrative (based on little hard evidence) alleging serious misconduct by senior Communist officials, a surprising number of whom are depicted as secret agents for the CIA.

Most of these politically titillating accounts, read with considerable fascination during the Cultural Revolution period, were repudiated one by one in the years following Mao Zedong's demise in 1976. I am still waiting for a clear explanation of the mysterious death of Lin Biao, Chairman Mao's designated successor who allegedly died in September 1971. But, 42 years later, I am starting to doubt that patience is in fact its own reward. Oh well.

Recently, however, there have some strange new Chinese media reports to feed one's appetite for this kind of sordid thing.

For example, the official line on how British businessman Neil Heywood died in 2011 due to cyanide poisoning - administered at the behest of the spouse of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party General Secretary in the sprawling city of Chonqing - still doesn't seem to add up. Mr. Bo has been held without charge for over a year. Evidently the matter seems to be informed more by political motives and unknown factors than anything else. I wonder if the Bo matter will ever see credible resolution any more than Lin Biao's death.

But it is interesting that "political motives and unknown factors" have become the leitmotif of recent headlines in the Canadian media, too. Something about the reporting on Rob Ford, Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy seems strangely familiar, though I am more used to reading this kind of thing in Chinese and not in English-language media.

So what have we got here?

Clearly, a lot of people would like to see Mr. Ford cease to be the mayor of Toronto. And if it is true that he bought or was given cocaine, then he couldn't continue to be mayor. After all, under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, possession of cocaine can lead to a sentence of seven years in prison. But these serious allegations of cocaine smoking against Mr. Ford him seem fantastic and incredible. It is difficult to imagine that the Mayor could be a periodic visitor to crack houses in Rexdale without it having previously being detected. At the very last, his looming corpulent presence makes him quite a readily recognizable figure. It is astounding that a description of the lurid content of this video was reported in the Toronto Star before the Star was able to post the video on its website.

The bottom line with the Rob Ford media hullabaloo is that there is no verifiable evidence available to demonstrate that he has engaged in illegal behaviour. Moreover, there is nothing to do about it until the video, described in the Toronto Star as showing the Mayor ingesting crack, is available for viewing and response. Latest indications are that the people allegedly holding the video have gone to ground and will never hand it over.

While Mr. Ford may be choleric and intensely reviled by many, he cannot be removed from office over this as things stand. But the damage to his reputation by these media reports about him will probably never be undone, no matter how many times we hear the lawyered incantation that the news agency repeating the allegations have "not seen the video and has not been able to validate any of the claims being made."

On the other hand, revelations by CTV News about the $90,000 gift from Nigel Wright to Senator Mike Duffy is something that warrants police attention. Canada's Conflict of Interest Act states that people commit a serious crime if they give a gift "that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the public office holder in the exercise of an official power, duty or function". And for a member of Senate on the receiving end, this could be determined in a court of law to fall into the category of accepting a bribe.

Mr. Duffy owed money to the Receiver-General to reimburse expense claims that had been subsequently disallowed. Mr. Wright helped him out with the repayment. The crux of the matter is: Was there any expectation that Mr. Duffy would render any service in his capacity as senator in exchange for the money?

The fact that Mr. Duffy did not publicly acknowledge the gift early on is a cause for concern. It suggests there may be factors underlying this transaction that have yet to see the light of day. Again, there appear to be "political motives and unknown factors" right, left and centre in this.

It is quite possible that there will never be any public resolution of either the Rob Ford or Mike Duffy stories. I feel uneasy about that. I am used to it in Chinese politics. I am not used to it in Canadian politics.

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