In his blog today Warren Kinsella has been bemoaning the revelations concerning the private life of Vic Toews. He tells us that what separates other parties (his beloved Liberals in particular) from the Conservatives is that they have boundaries. The logic goes like this - the rather uncomfortable issues of Vic Toews' divorce have nothing to do with the the terrible legislation that Toews was introducing and nothing to do with his politics in general and the issues should therefore be off limits.
The problem with Mr. Kinsella's logic is that it is flagrantly wrong. The two issues are intimately and inseparably connected. At a general level this government has made a very big show about ethics and morality, using any opponent's supposed short-comings in this area as evidence of their unfitness for governing or anything else. It is not unlike Prime Minister John Major's moral crusade which he undertook at the very time that he was having an ongoing extramarital affair or Newt Gingrich's incessant attacks on Bill Clinton as being moral unfit to be president while he was also having an affair. If Toews and his government had never attempted to take the moral high-ground, if they didn't claim to be better than everyone else, and if they didn't claim that everyone else was ethically unfit to govern, then Mr. Kinsella would have an argument. However, as it stands now, Kinsella has nothing like an argument. Far from the Vic Toews revelations having nothing to do with his political agenda, they have everything to do with his political agenda.
Mr. Kinsella's argument is made even weaker by the fact that the particular legislation that Vic Toews has introduced is about personal privacy and it demonstrates the total and utter disregard that the Harpercons have for privacy. The Conservatives claim (like so many conservatives) that "if you have nothing to hide, you don't need any privacy," and this is precisely the philosophy that the Bill in question puts into action. Well the revelations concerning Vic Toews is simply the application of his own political philosophy to himself, and he came up wanting. For this reason Mr. Kinsella is more than wrong, his opinion is the very reason that the Liberal Party has been a failure - it hasn't understood that being principled isn't simply about applying one standard to everything, rather it is about applying the appropriate standard. While, Mr. Kinsella is correct in believing that there may be some things that are never appropriate, in general terms, the appropriateness of actions often changes with changing circumstances. For example a politician may say that one principle he would never break is obedience to the law, but if that same person found herself in the Syrian opposition today, that principle would not necessarily apply. Martin Luther King understood this when he said that it is as much a duty to oppose unjust laws as it is to obey just ones.
Having said that, I certainly don't think that the Toews case is such an extreme one. If Vic Toews was concerned with people's privacy, if he was not (like most of the Harpercons) a moralistic blowhard who pretends to be ethically superior to anyone who opposes him, if didn't claim that anyone who opposes him is a child-pornographer, then yes, his personal life would be off limits. He should have learned from the sad example of Gary Hart - if you make a show of being ethically pure and you invite journalists to follow you around to demonstrate how morally pure you are, then you, yourself, have removed the barrier of privacy. You cannot hide behind a principle of personal privacy if you have demonstrated that you don't believe in such a principle and you cannot make the ethics of personal lives a major political issue and then cry foul when people expose your own ethical failures in your personal life.
I think the lesson here is that, while I appreciate Mr. Kinsella's desire to avoid the proverbial laying down with dogs and getting up with fleas, we must also understand that if you have a political opponent that is willing to break any law or principle to maintain power, then the boundaries of political appropriateness have a priori changed and if you don't react to those changes you are bound to fail. This is not to suggest that the Vic Toews case is an extreme one and therefore 'the ends must justify the means.' Rather, the Toews case if very simple, the only really meaningful demonstration of the bankruptcy of Vic Toews' political philosophy in this regard is if the standards applied in his Bill and in his political strategy in general are publicly applied to him.
In other word, the Conservatives have demonstrated that they have no regard for law or principle and if we do not apply appropriate standards to them today, we will be in the position of the Syrian opposition later and none of this debate will matter.