Wednesday, October 19, 2005

MÁ-henny. Got it.

The polished-to-a-bright-shine Liberal candidate in Ottawa-Centre has encountered a little choppy water, it seems, in his quest to win a seat in Parliament. Lawyer Richard Mahoney--and you'd better get the pronunciation right, or some Liberal hack will accuse you of being anti-Irish--has been caught lobbying for a big corporate client, Canadian Satellite Radio, without registering with the Lobbyist Registration Branch of Industry Canada, as he was required to do by law.

His damage-control machine was quickly revved up to full throttle: he tried to register, he says, he really did, but administrative mix-ups got in the way. And, anyway, he wasn’t lobbying for CSR, but he thought he ought to register anyway "out of an abundance of caution" as he bumped elbows in September with other well-heeled Liberals, including CSR supporters, at a cosy little get-together at Paul Martin’s house. And he doesn’t remember even discussing satellite radio at the time, or indeed with any government official at any time. And he registered last week. And he terminated his registration with CSR this week. The man gives whole new life to that wonderful cliché, "galloping off in all directions."

CSR and Sirius Canada, both affiliated with US satellite broadcasters, had obtained licenses from CRTC, which had obligingly relaxed the Canadian content regulations for them. This decision was appealed to Cabinet by CHUM Ltd., Astral Media and others. Sometime after the cocktail party, the appeal to Cabinet was rejected. The sound of scratching fingers on itchy backs must have been enough to wake the dead.

One can just feel Mahoney's sweat beginning to bead. This comes at a most awkward time, as word of the contents of the Gomery report is filtering into the media, allegations have surfaced that David Dingwall was doing his share of unregistered lobbying too, and an election is looming. There is a taint that is continuing to spread like a stain across the Liberal party at the moment, and Martin insider Mahoney--a nice guy, from all accounts, although he doesn't have a lot to say--is facing strong opposition from a popular NDP candidate.

Ed Broadbent's hopeful successor, in fact, is a grassroots community activist and schoolteacher, Paul Dewar, the son of legendary former Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar. He has built strong links to neighbourhood associations, students, working people and the many ethnic communities to be found in Ottawa-Centre. He is well-known and well-liked throughout the riding, and he has the common touch.

On the other hand one gets the distinct impression, watching Richard Mahoney in action, as I did at numerous all-candidates' meetings last election, that he is most at home in the back-rooms, strategizing and plotting. He's got a fair grasp of some of the issues, puts the requisite Liberal gloss on them, and knows when to duck (as he did, repeatedly, on the issue of electoral reform). My gut feeling is that ordinary people and their boring little problems are somewhat less important to sleek Liberal operators than their love of "the game."

That doesn't prevent such people being elected, of course. But Ottawa-Centre is full of voters who are smart, sophisticated and, as Ed Broadbent's thumping victory last time indicated, tired of Liberal shenanigans. Whether Mahoney's "administrative mix-up" story turns out to have substance or not, he's got a problem. Will his vigorous little dance get him into a safer part of the auditorium in time for E-Day? Stay tuned.

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