So I’m up in the woods the other day, standing over a still-twitching rabbit, the first kill of the new season, when my hunting partner — characteristically without context — asks me what I think of Peter Penashue’s ignominious stint thus far in the federal cabinet.
Two points worth making here: for sure, Jim didn’t use the pretentious word “ignominious” — that’s not his style; and the question was rhetorical, just his excuse to launch into one of his obscenity-laced, colourful rants about politicians or anything else, for that matter, that crosses his mind.
And, as is his wont, my friend of three decades decided to utilize the scene before us to illustrate his never ambiguous views on current affairs.
Pointing to my beagle Tandy, who was, at that point, proudly sniffing the dying rabbit and gloating over having done his invaluable part in dispatching Bugs Bunny to Heaven for Hares, my buddy, the hunter-turned-pundit, remarked: “You know somethin’, Tandy there could do a better job as a cabinet minister than that Penashue fella.”
And warming to the subject at hand, and invigorated by my laughter, he added: “At least Tandy there growls at someone he should be mad at, or tries to bite the arse of whoever it is who’s given him that reason to snarl.”
For sure, there was no disagreeing with the assessment: Penashue’s career in cabinet has been a disappointing one, and that’s a massive understatement; even that rabbit, all shot to pieces in the middle of a cutover in the Flatrock woods, had at least had a good run before he was brought down. Penashue, on the other hand (or the other paw), came out of the gate stumbling and bumbling, trying almost from the get-go to defend the indefensible Stephen Harper while he, Penashue’s benefactor, continually put Newfoundland in the crosshairs.
And Penashue has never recovered.
Now, as everyone in the country knows (even Tandy seemed to sense who we were talking about, looking up briefly from his palliative care prey to nod an acknowledgment), the last couple of weeks have seen Penashue’s political career shattered beyond repair with the most recent revelations about his habit of playing fast and loose with electioneering rules.
I believe it was the first time since he moved to Ottawa that Penashue earned a prominent spot in Peter Mansbridge’s lineup and plenty of space in papers like The Globe and Mail, but it was obviously not the kind of publicity he had in mind when he decided to exploit his well-earned, solid reputation as an Innu leader and enter the compromising world of federal politics.
The reports that he had overspent his election expenses by several thousand dollars were bad enough. But they were exacerbated by the fact that Provincial Airways had written off thousands of dollars more he spent traipsing around Labrador as if he were Craig Dobbin. That kind of cosy, financial arrangement with any corporation isn’t healthy, of course. Plus, the free air time above the Labrador skies gave Penashue an unfair advantage over Todd Russell, the Liberal candidate he defeated by a handful of votes.
Yes, it certainly painted a disastrous picture, but equally embarrassing was Penashue’s lame and pathetic excuses for the wrong-doing. I shuffled my feet as I watched Penashue on CBC Television making awkward attempts, with no success, to dismiss his misuse of election finances as the mistakes of a rookie politician.
I’m quite sure federal candidates are given enough information — training, in fact — to ensure they obey the rules set down to provide, to whatever extent possible, a level playing field for all who put their name on a ballot paper.
So Penashue has no one to blame but himself. Trying to write it off as a misunderstanding is like me trying to convince Revenue Canada that I was unaware of this or that income tax rule. The tax boys and girls don’t want to hear it. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Penashue was caught. And it’s amazing to me that he hasn’t done the honourable thing and resigned. After all, that’s a word people would use freely, I’m sure, when describing Penashue in his former role as a national chief of the Innu Nation.
What didn’t shock me, of course, was Harper’s dismissal of the entire issue.
Harper has so much power these days that he has made himself immune to criticism.
His arrogance is palpable.
I’ll give Tandy the last word here: Agrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Bob Wakeham has spent 40 years
as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.