"Obviously, the situation with Senator Brazeau is terrible. It is extremely appalling and disappointing, and we all feel very let down," murmured the prime minister in Burnaby on Friday. "Obviously, over a recent period, something has been going very wrong."
Obviously. And I wager that is how we will be encouraged to remember Patrick Brazeau -- through the lens of his own moral failings. Not as a carefully selected cog in a larger machine, but as an individual whose alleged predisposition toward lust and violence finally caught up with him, dashing our hopes and trust.
It was that way with ex-Conservative minister Helena Guergis, too. We remember something about an airport tantrum, cocaine, some "busty hookers," and of course her husband Rahim Jaffer's drunken roadside arrest. A cocktail of human weakness, tinged with hysteria and smut. Appalling.
Then there's PMO heavyweight Bruce Carson, in the end just another dirty old man, captive to the whims of a lingerie-clad 22-year-old gold-digger. Reduced to lobbying his old colleagues on behalf of a former sex worker. Disappointing.
Or even the unflinchingly loyal Bev Oda, rendered in her final days as a sad cartoon, her king-sized cigarette and sunglasses failing to mask the addiction to 16-dollar orange juice and limousine rides. Bev, we all feel very let down.
Each of them was thrown under the bus, but not in a panicked or haphazard way. With Harper, the timing is always just so, and the splatter -- so far -- never lands on his shoes.
Harper has demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of scandal. He will defend his wayward minions for days or weeks in the face of public outrage, so long as they are being judged in the context of his leadership. All that time, he is waiting for his moment, because he knows their weaknesses better than they do. After all, he hired them.
In that moment of shock and horror, as Patrick Brazeau sat in handcuffs, Harper didn't hesitate. Without waiting for charges to be laid, let alone a conviction obtained, Harper expelled the senator from the Conservative caucus. He tossed his scapegoat to the dogs, knowing that Brazeau's abrupt sacrifice was the party's best chance at ritual purification.
It doesn't matter, frankly, whether clever big-city newspaper columnists catch the sleight of hand. Harper's audience is far narrower, and less preoccupied with niceties like the presumption of innocence. The only thing that matters is that the contamination is framed as individual in scope and moral in nature -- not the product of a system that Harper oversees.
Helena Guergis was not herself a strategic threat, but she hung out with people who were. By having dinner with her husband Rahim Jaffer and his associate, Nazim Gillani, she embodied a clear and public bridge between their world of sleaze and the Conservative cabinet. Jaffer may have been slinging bull about his access to the inner circle, but it raised the question of who he was trying to emulate, and where he got the idea he could succeed.
Perhaps from Bruce Carson, who (before he and his fiancee got nailed by APTN for that stupid water filter caper) served as the architect of a jaw-dropping wealth transfer between the federal treasury and the oil industry. You can read Andrew Nikiforuk's investigative report on Carson's $40-million, publicly funded partisan think tank here. Carson embodied the kind of big-money backroom cronyism that proved so fatal for the Liberal party.
Bev Oda, of course, altered an official funding decision in ball-point pen, then lied to Parliament about it. Standing up day after day in question period, refusing to roll over on the boss, she embodied the casual abuse of democratic institutions that drives small-c conservatives crazy.
Each of them at one point represented a significant threat to Conservative power, if nice suburban swing voters had fixed on the idea that these were merely symptoms of a deeper rot. And any of them, Brazeau included, could have weathered those scandals -- if they hadn't given Stephen Harper an opportunity to make it about them. It was never the media or the opposition they should have been watching, it was the guy behind them.
Role to play
Brazeau was quickly becoming the most dangerous Conservative hiring mistake yet. He didn't just embody the standard nepotism, decadence, arrogance and graft -- he provided a window onto the kind of government-sanctioned racism that could sink Harper's whole plan.
At one point during her hunger strike, someone using Chief Theresa Spence's Twitter account called Patrick Brazeau a "typical colonized Indian asshole." He revelled in the role, saying things no white politician could get away with. He mocked Spence's weight, antagonized elected chiefs and grassroots activists, told Idle No More supporters if they don't like the Indian Act, they should tear up their status cards and see how far it gets them.
This is an era when First Nations legal challenges could become the single greatest impediment to Harper's resource development strategy. In a sense, everything hangs on those relationships. And Brazeau's behaviour forced questions: Is this what they really think of us? Is this guy their idea of a good Indian?
Sadly, Brazeau's spectacular flameout will be read by some not only in terms of personal morality, but also race -- shifting responsibility even farther from the party. On this one, Harper got lucky.
Brazeau of course has not been proven guilty of the assault charges laid against him. But the headlines have told a story that plays into the prejudiced stereotype of a violent Native man who abuses women. And so, Brazeau invites Conservative sympathizers to see his whole career in racial terms, including the alleged corruption. Harper, the disappointed foster parent, gets to sigh and shake his head.
Like many before him, Brazeau outlived his usefulness to the party. Once again, Harper has flashed the scalpel, cut out a tumour, and discarded it. The question is how much of the body is left.