When in doubt, check the track record.

If that is done on the question of diplomat Richard Colvin’s testimony on the Afghan detainees, the Harper government’s side of the story doesn’t make it to the dance floor.

The Conservatives have a long history of trying to shield embarrassing truths from the public and of smearing anyone who challenges them. It’s one of the reasons critics were quick to pounce on Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s attempt to undermine Colvin last week.


In the same week, the Tories were distributing flyers to various ridings trying to paint the Liberals as anti-Jewish. The charge is ludicrous. Michael Ignatieff, one of the most right-wing leaders on foreign policy the Liberals have ever had, is decidedly pro-Israel. But that’s the way the Tories operate.

We recall how they went after Linda Keen, the former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and how they slandered Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, calling her a “national disgrace.” They smeared NDP members as being pro Taliban. As for their record of secrecy and concealment, they may well exceed any Canadian government before them. They’ve muzzled their own ministers, shut down a giant government information registry, and made a mockery of access to information regulations.

No one should be surprised, therefore, if in fact they tried to cover up the Afghan prisoner abuse and are now forced into trying to discredit the whistleblower.

The Conservatives keep using smear tactics for a good reason. They work. Take the personal attack ads they launched against Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Ignatieff. Those leaders, who came out of the soft ivory tower of academia, had no response. Dion didn’t have the money to run counterattack ads. The party was broke. Iggy’s team had the money. But what did he do? After being belted by Conservative commercials labelling him a just-visiting, power-hungry, carpetbagger, he turned the other cheek. In a series of commercials he stood in front of a forest mouthing platitudes and bromides. Looking on, Stephen Harper was probably laughing his butt off.

The Grits, hovering at historic low levels of 23 per cent in the polls, desperately need a new strategy. They’ve got to throw out the kid gloves and start responding to the Tories in kind. Ignatieff hasn’t wished to be front and centre on the Afghan allegations because of his past controversial remarks on the use of torture.

But the torture allegations are only one element of this story. There’s a bigger one. It’s the alleged cover-up. Iggy should smear the Conservatives with that. Unlike most Tory charges, it might even be true.

Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.

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