The Six "S" of Scandal Stickiness

This time last year, the Tories found themselves engulfed in scandal – Carson, Contempt, In & Out, Oda… The opposition parties were licking their chops at the prospect of bringing the government down.

We all know how that turned out. The scandals didn’t stick, and the result was a Tory majority.

With the Nixonian references flying fast and furious around Ottawa, the question now becomes whether Robocon will prove to be Harper’s Watergate, or just another soon-to-be-forgotten scandlette?

From my experience, there are 6 keys to a scandal “sticking”, so let’s see how Robocon stacks up.

1. Simplicity: The rule of thumb used to be that everything in politics had to be explainable in a “30 second elevator pitch”, but that’s probably down to 10 seconds (or 140 characters) these days. The Carson scandal may have had hookers, but good luck explaining lobbying improprieties to anyone.

Robocon passes the simplicity test in flying colours – “the Tories lied to voters about polling stations moving, to prevent them from voting“. Done, with 56 characters to spare.

2. Shock: Is your 10 second explanation met with shock or a shrug? Harper missing a photo op or pocketing a communion wafer is a simple story, but it’s not going to leave many people aghast.

Widespread voter suppression? It does. Canadians tend to be rather apathetic about democracy, but it’s hard not to find what is being alleged reprehensible.

3. Story: Does the scandal fit in to a larger narrative or can it be dismissed as an isolated incident? Adscam worked because it struck to the larger issues of corruption and wasting taxpayer dollars, two things which matter to voters.

Harper has enough strikes against him on the “undermining democracy” front that it’s easy to tie this in to a larger narrative. I’d suggest the Tory track record here, including the Cotler incident, also leaves voters a lot less likely to give them the benefit of the doubt.

4. Sexiness: Is the scandal attention grabbing? Despite its name, “in and out” was the definition of “unsexy”, dealing with spending limits and accounting loopholes. Yawn.

Robocon has recorded calls, burner cellphones, and Pierre Poutine. Yeah, it’s not cocaine and busty strippers, but conspiracies sell movie tickets, and this one could turn out to be a conspiracy.

5. Sustainability: Can the scandal sustain itself for months or years, or will it burn out quickly? The Gomery Commission gave Adscam the legs to fight two elections over it.

While Harper will be reluctant to call an inquiry, the RCMP, Elections Canada, and journalistic investigations will drag on, and they’re likely to be followed by a trial. This one isn’t going away anytime soon.

6. Seriousness: Simply put, how high does it go? Watergate is the grandaddy of all scandals because it went to the very top. As entertaining as Maxime Bernier losing his briefs was, it said little about Harper.

This is really the one question mark that will make or break this scandal. If Robocon was the creation of a few rogue volunteers in Guelph, no one is going to be talking about it come 2015. If it looks like the national campaign was involved, then the Tories are in trouble. If Harper knew, it’s game over.

Robocon has more potential to inflict damage on Harper and the Conservatives than anything they’ve faced during their 6 years in power. Whether or not it does will depend on who exactly was involved.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Scandals, Uncategorized

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at and online at the National Post.

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