Smash, crash: Paul Martin's government is falling apart. For the first time in 15 years, it's possible to imagine the Liberals losing the next election. The trouble is, it remains very hard to imagine the Conservatives winning it.
As things stand, the best likely outcome for the Conservatives is a minority government. That means the Conservatives will have to make a deal. But how? And with who? Not the Liberals, obviously. Not the NDP, even more obviously. That leaves the Bloc Quebecois.
But wait a minute. Preston Manning's Reformers busted up the old Progressive Conservatives precisely because they wanted no more dirty deals with Quebec nationalists.
Is there any way to do a clean deal?
Looking for a Deal
Is there anything the Conservatives and the Bloc could agree on today, before the election, that would help them both with their very different kinds of voters?
The two parties don't agree on much: Not on economics; not on social issues; not on foreign policy; not on the Constitution.
But there is one thing that they do agree on as one of the first orders of business after the next election: An official nonpartisan investigation to get right to the bottom of Liberal corruption in the province of Quebec.
In many ways, the people of Quebec are the foremost victims of the sponsorship scandal. Yes, individual Quebec Liberals pocketed millions of dollars. But overall, what did the people of Quebec get?
Quebecers got their money stolen. Quebecers pay taxes too, let's remember--lots of taxes. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Quebecers pay almost $16 billion in personal taxes to Ottawa, second only to Ontario's $19 billion-plus. The money stolen and wasted by Liberal hacks was francophone money too. Every Quebecer who pays his or her fair share has been abused.
Quebecers got their reputation trashed. Quebecers have worked hard over the past three decades to root out political corruption. The smug old English Canadian disdain for Quebec politics was becoming obsolete. Now, thanks to the Liberals, the old prejudices suddenly look all too plausible. It's a terrible insult to a proud province.
Quebecers got their democracy perverted. Let's remember why the Liberals started the sponsorship racket. It began as an attempt to use taxpayer money to buy political support in Quebec. The Liberals had enough respect for English-Canadian democracy to leave Ontario and Alberta and British Columbia alone to make their own decisions in their own way.
But Quebec they regard as what the U.S. Army used to call a free-fire zone: A place where anything goes.
So nobody should be angrier about the sponsorship scandal than the voters of Quebec. And maybe the nationalist voters of the Bloc Quebecois should be the angriest of them all.
After all, the sponsorship scandal began as an attempt by the Liberals to use taxpayer money to buy votes for the Liberals against the BQ.
While the BQ and the Conservatives may not agree about much, they should be able to agree on this:
They both should want to find out exactly what happened in the sponsorship scandal. That won't happen so long as a Liberal government in Ottawa is covering up the truth.
They should both want to identify the names of each and every Liberal who pocketed money in the sponsorship scandal. That won't happen so long as a Liberal government in Ottawa continues to protect its local pals in Quebec.
Punish the Guilty
They should both want to punish the guilty. That won't happen so long as many of the guilty still occupy some of the highest offices in the land.
Finally, they should both want to take steps to ensure that scandals like this never, ever, occur again. That won't happen either, so long as Canada is controlled by a single party.
Competition keeps democracy honest, just the way competition keeps business honest--until competition returns to Canadian federal politics, there will be scandal after scandal after scandal.
So there's maybe the basis for a working agreement between Conservatives and the Bloc: A grand independent investigation of Liberal corruption in the province of Quebec, followed by criminal trials if appropriate, and by reforms to protect public money from this kind of crookedness in the future.
It's not an alliance. But it could be a deal.
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.