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Dingwall Fiasco
26/10/2005

I didn't get very involved in the David Dingwall affair, and a big part of the reason was that the media and public seems to be overexcitable about expense claims. A number on a page doesn't tell you much without the context, but in the case of Dingwall, the number seems to have been the main factor freaking people out.

Now it seems that Dingwall may have been "completely exonerated" by an audit. He's threatening to sue MPs who portrayed his spending habits as an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars.

What this brings to mind are some comments on Warren Kinsella's blog back on October 21:

...when advising opposition parties, or political challengers, I always advise them to NOT go on and on about chickenshit expense account stuff - because, in the event they win power, they will be on the receiving end of some ridiculous expense story, and they won't be able to complain, because they did it themselves when they were in opposition. BUT IT'S STUPID AND IT'S BULLSHIT.

"You give me and a good war room team Mother Theresa's expense accounts for a single day - just one day - and we can make her look bad, too. Believe it."

The reason it is so easy to do is because the same expenses that are routinely charged in the world of business sound silly and selfish when scandalously revealed by an opponent in Parliament.

It also brings to mind the way Andrew at Bound by Gravity laid into Jason Cherniak for some comments he made about this scandal.

I don't normally read Cherniak -- no particular reason -- but he seemed to be making sense when he wrote:

The bit that I have seen has left me with the impression that Dingwall and some advisors have spent $700,000 over the past year on business expenses. That leaves me with some questions. How many advisors? What were the expenses for? Who were the guests? Did Dingwall's bank account profit? None of those questions seem obvious to me.

If you don't know exactly what the money was spent on and in what situations, then you don't know much. I wasn't reading all the news, so maybe there was good reason to assume that these expenses were crooked, but it appears to have been wrong. It turns out that it wasn't fair for Andrew to title his post "Liberal Ethics on Display" or to write "The Liberals have to go; men like David Dingwall, who treat the public purse like a piggy bank, and Jason Cherniak, who give him a free pass, are perfect examples of why they cannot be allowed to govern further." (Though I agree that we need a change of government.)

Then there is this comment, in which Andrew replies to another commenter (in italics):

[Mike:] Now if we can get a little more evidence of malfeasances, I'll be happy to join the chorus calling fo his head. So far it has been a laundry list of expenses without a context - like a $5000 dinner bill which seems incredibly offensive until you find out it was the bill for 30 people and it was a business dinner. I have worked for companies that easily drop tha kind of money on a pizza party for the employees.

[Andrew A:] Sure, we'd all like to know how Mr. Dingwall racked up $700k in expenditures - the more info the better - please, bring it on. If it turns out that all of these expenses were necessary for Mint business, then I'll be the first to post an apology. [so save this thread, just in case ;) ]

Andrew is a class act, so I'm sure we will see that apology soon. Either that or he'll need to present good reason to doubt the Dingwall audit.

The political context for this is serious, however. Sloppy work by the Conservatives (again) is making them look bad, and will make it easier for the Liberals to escape the consequences of real scandals.

UPDATE Oct 27: Andrew has replied here, and Jim Elve as well.


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