An impassioned indictment of the Conservative Senate’s internal economic committee and the Prime Minister’s Office has brought the senate expenses scandal careening back into the political forefront. Defending his right to continue sitting as a Senator, Mike Duffy pulled no punches as heavy allegations of threat, coercion, and unabashed corruption were placed directly at the feet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his office. The issue is highly contentious, and has produced a variety of divisive, often contradictory statements between the disputing parties. Pamela Wallin, another similarly scandalized senator, has made equally incendiary remarks towards the Prime Minister’s Office. While the Conservatives may have hoped that the two disgraced Senators would exit the public arena quietly, the opposite has occurred; and as a result Canadians are left wondering what to believe. Stephen Harper maintains both that he personally had no role whatsoever in the scandal which saw his own chief of staff write a personal check to Duffy in an enormous breach of Senate ethics, and did not threaten Mike Duffy. However, when we critically examine the conduct and statements of Stephen Harper and his party prior to, during, and in the aftermath of this abysmal display of blatant corruption, it becomes clear that our own Prime Minister cannot be trusted in determining his or his party’s own accountability.
When questions began to surface about the expenses of Pamela Wallin before the full extent of the scandal had truly broken out, Prime Minister Harper attempted to smooth the issue over on February 12th: “In terms of Sen. Wallin, I have looked at the numbers. Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time.” This statement would seem to imply that he had personally reviewed Pamela Wallin’s numbers and found them to be sound, a reassuring premise. However, a mere two weeks after this statement, the questions still persisted and frantic backtracking ensued. Pressed for questions by the media, PMO Communications Director Andrew MacDougall said “I don’t believe the Prime Minister said he’d personally reviewed her expenses.” While technically true, deliberately misleading statements such as this, followed by transparent political backpedaling tend to cause one’s political credibility to lose value. These remarks demonstrate that from the very onset of this ballooning scandal Stephen Harper had been dishonest, and deliberately misled the Canadian people on his personal overview of Wallin’s numbers in an attempt to play down the issue.
Turning the clock forward, it became very apparent in May 2013 that Wallin and Duffy had both been guilty of gross negligence and fraud in their misappropriation of taxpayer money. Yet the Harper Conservatives still had the gall to defend Duffy, lauding his “great leadership” in returning the money he had defrauded from the Canadian public. Leadership…for paying expenses well after journalistics and the general public had inquired about this wrongful misappropriation. As the scandal continued however, it would become clear that the Conservative government does indeed seem to value qualities of corrupt negligence in their leaders, perhaps best exemplified by Stephen Harper himself.
The scandal reached arguably its crescendo when it became clear that Nigel Wright, the chief of staff for Stephen Harper, had personally repaid Mike Duffy’s loan for him; having done this without reporting it as a gift over $500 dollars to the Senate expenses committee as per the rules. Rather than immediately acknowledge this horrendous ethical breach, Harper defended Wright, saying that he had his “full confidence”. Not only did Harper refuse to fire Wright for his misdeed, but he resisted accepting Wright’s resignation and attempted to keep him on staff. Only after Wright’s eventual dismissal did Harper begin to change his tone and acknowledge that Wright had made an error in judgement, after public uproar had already told him as much.
This brings us back to the present where it has just been revealed by Mike Duffy that he had personally met with Harper and Wright- just the three of them- in February to discuss his expenses. Consider that Stephen Harper, whatever one may think of him, is notorious for the level of control that he has over party operations, and consider that this matter has been traced back by the RCMP into the heart of the Prime Minister’s Office, between the chief of staff and three other individuals within it. This is a Prime Minister who is known to be hyper-partisan, controlling, and extremely intelligent, yet claims to have no role in this affair and was unable to answer questions from the opposition party. Instead Harper opted to sit during Question Period and leave his parliamentary secretary to field his questions. The next day when the Prime Minister did answer questions, he stated that “very few” members of his office knew of the Wright/Duffy arrangement, a stark contrast to his earlier declaration that Wright acted completely alone.
This is also a Prime Minister who downplayed expense fraud within his party, backed off when it became clear to the public that there had been fraud, praised one of the guilty senators for their “leadership” in the midst of his gross corruption, and condoned the highly unethical personal repayment of this member from his own chief of staff. Yet this same senator who showed “leadership” earlier is now apparently lying when he claims that he has been threatened by the Prime Minister and his office. This scandal is far from over, and new details will likely be brought forth by the RCMP regarding both the Prime Minister’s personal involvement in the affair, and whether Duffy was indeed threatened. However, if one lesson is to be learned from the past, it is that what Stephen Harper claims he did or did not do, what his impression of the involved parties are, and even what he believes to be right or wrong should justifiably be called into question, as they continue to change with each new layer of this atrocious scandal that becomes unearthed.
– Eli Vincent Zivot