The Carson show

WELLS: Does this increase the likelihood of an election?

It never rains but it pours. Last night some of my Conservative friends were furious at the harshness of the rhetoric the Prime Minister’s Office was using to distance the government from Bruce Carson, who was one of Stephen Harper’s most trusted and well-liked advisors. Today they saw more of the complete story and suddenly the PMO had a lot less explaining to do to its own partisans.

Carson has more to explain. I’ll pause only to say, with feeling, that an accusation is no proof of guilt, before moving on to crassly tactical considerations. To wit: does this increase the likelihood of an election?

Probably, for two reasons. First, the opposition will get excited and want to capitalize on the appearance of scandal with a quick election. This is not necessarily a healthy instinct for them. I covered Jean Chrétien’s campaign in 2000, when my employer at the time, the National Post, was breaking Andrew McIntosh’s Shawinigate revelations almost daily. Andrew’s stories gave Chrétien surprisingly few bad campaign days: the revelations were fresh and hadn’t sunk in with most voters. It takes a protracted pounding before scandal sinks in. The opposition could make these revelations, and the other less spectacular affairs beginning to beset the government, the focus of Commons business for a long time before putting it all to voters in an election.

But (a) it’s hard to be that patient when there is trouble in the air (b) it would be harder and harder for opposition parties to be seen letting the government survive while they pick over the Carson case, the Oda case and others. So the opposition’s taste for an early election is probably enhanced by today’s news.

The second reason is that Harper may now prefer a quick election, to avoid the steady drip-drip of constant discussion of these revelations.

Jack Layton could hardly make it clearer he is looking for something in next week’s budget he can support. But those ads were made before the Carson story broke. We’ll see.

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