The Trial of the Century has a verdict. Dean Del Mastro, former parliamentary secretary to Stephen Harper, has been found guilty of spending too much in the 2008 Federal Election and of falsifying documents.
While Judge Lisa Cameron, Crown Prosecutor Tom Lemon, Del Mastro’s attorney Jeff Ayotte, and the Prime Minister’s Office all recognize and accept the court’s decision, Del Mastro (shockingly) does not. When pressed after the verdict, he stipulated that the duly appointed Judge merely gave “her opinion,” that it “was not a final decision,” and that his opinion (in his words, the truth) was “quite different.”
Although Del Mastro was elected under the Conservative banner, he, like other controversial Tories who might bring shame upon the PMO, has been cast off as an independent. During the trial, the judge found that Del Mastro lacked credibility and “frequently obfuscated.” The latter is a fancy way of saying he acted like a true Harper Conservative: unclear, confusing, and a proponent of long-winded hand waving that doesn’t explain a thing.
The now-Independent MP said he would refuse to vacate his seat in the House until he had a chance to appeal his verdict. Since anyone guilty of violating the Canada Elections act is banned from sitting in or running for the House of Commons for a period of five years, MPs must decide whether Del Mastro can keep his seat or not. According to Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, this decision falls to the House of Commons as a whole, which makes sense, since they do make the laws. NDP MP Peter Julian foolishly requested clarity on the matter from the House Speaker, but Andrew Scheer was unavailable to be useless on Friday. When the question on Del Mastro’s status arose in the House on Monday, Scheer was available to warn to NDP to stop badgering the government about issues which didn’t touch on the administrative ability of the government. Meanwhile Peter Van Loan boomed something about how the sentencing hasn’t taken place yet and a Commons Committee should be formed to decide what to do with yet another of the PMs former Parliamentary Secretaries; who may or may not still (technically) be a member of the House of Commons.
Del Mastro, despite being guilty in the eyes of Canadians, the Crown, the PMO, and the Opposition, may end up retaining his seat after all. He just won’t try to sneak into the House this week, since his wife gave birth over the weekend (thereby ensuring that the Del Mastro family will be eligible for the tax cuts, income splitting, and other assorted benefits Harper recently promised).
Del Mastro is another black mark on the PMs fairly well marked record. Harper might not want to keep him around. With two other by-elections (a third if Del Mastro gets the boot), poll numbers sinking faster than the Titanic. With competitive opposition parties and several other upcoming court cases concerning Tory misdeeds, he might want to pull the plug and call the election early. Better to get another mandate after breaking his election law, than to have no mandate at all, and be stuck where the Liberal Party was in 2011.
The lawyer and crown attorney speculate that Del Mastro likely won’t face the maximum jail time, which, thanks to Harper, is now three years and a hefty fine. Having served the minimum six years in the Commons as a Conservative MP, Del Mastro could claim that he’s already done double that time imprisoned by partisanship and the Conservative Party. Even if that doesn’t fly, he’ll still have his cushy pension to fall back on.