The day before yesterday, Senator Mike Duffy stood up in the Senate and delivered a jaw-dropping speech. He alleged that he was coerced and blackmailed into accepting Nigel Wright’s famous $90,000 cheque to repay ineligible expenses. According to Duffy, if he didn’t play along, he would lose his senate seat. Additionally, Duffy claims the grand orchestrator of this scheme was none other than Stephen Harper himself.
Duffy weaved through his speech with all the drama of a Broadway blockbuster. He sent searing condemnations left and right, burning up partisan loyalties along the way and sparing no one. He concluded by delivering a profound ultimatum for Senators to put their constitutional duty before the unbridled power of the Prime Minister. Tension was thick in the air, as all eyes followed the political grenade he had just lobbed into the PM’s hands. To be clear, this is political theatre at it’s fullest. Duffy has proven nothing, has shown no documents and predictably, is casting himself as the victim. So a dose of caution would be advised before jumping to conclusions.
What is key however, is the February 13th meeting to which Duffy referred, where he claimed to have been shaken down by Harper and Wright. This contradicts statements made by the PMO over that meeting, who claim it was only Harper and Duffy present at the meeting. On top of that, in the House for 3 days in a row in June, Harper was unable to directly answer the question as to who was present at the meeting. See here, here and here.
As this scandal swells to new heights, it is also climbing the ladder in the Prime Ministers Office. However, the PM has been deftly playing hide and seek, through absenteeism in the House and non-answers in QP. He has been bobbing and ducking at every turn and after yesterday’s bombshell, he is clearly running out of places to hide. If Duffy’s allegations are true, and he maintains he has numerous documents, the ball falls directly in Harper’s court. The acts of extortion of a public office holder, bribery and blackmail are serious crimes. It could easily lead to his resignation, and even the collapse of the Conservative party. That is, if Duffy is proven right.
To this point, Harper’s solution has been to throw his minions over the edge. Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, Director of Communications Andrew MacDougall, Director of Issues Management Chris Woodcock, PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin have all resigned or conveniently left the PMO this summer. Our horse riding friends in red tunics, the RCMP, are investigating the matter and are hot on their tails. Meanwhile, the entire Conservative party stands trial in the court of public opinion. The sounds of sirens from this scandal are getting louder and louder and it’s high time the Prime Minister got over his deathly allergy to taking responsibility. He must face the music and provide the truth. Whatever that may be.
Whether you buy Duffy’s performance as a victim is one thing, but these allegations can’t be allowed to float through the air without a response. Worse yet, they cannot be dismissed by gleeful cheers for all the cheese we’re now getting from Europe. The time for answers is now. Not just for opposition parties who are gnashing their teeth, but also for Harper’s own party. Reform supporters in the West have long deplored the excesses of government and these high-profile scandals. It’s what led to the 2006 Conservative breakthrough in the first place. Answers for those oh so pesky millions of Canadians this government purports to represent would be nice too.
So did the PM try and blackmail a sitting Senator? Did he orchestrate Nigel Wright’s illegal payment? Was he indeed lying to the House of Commons in June? How long can the Prime Minister realistically avoid fundamental questions about this affair?
In a way, what does it matter. No answers will be real news to anyone. Something like this was always going to happen. Like boom and bust cycles in a market economy, scandals are simply reality of politics. Schreiber and Mulroney, Liberals and Sponsorship, Charbonneau in Quebec, Rob Ford, Robocalls, bad beef, power plants, fighter jets, and even the ‘saintly’ Sir John A. MacDonald and the Pacific Railway. Strategists in swanky suits will frenetically dart around the capital crafting absurd communication strategies to cover up, make up, defend, defer and deflect.
Meanwhile the people are watching. Mothers in Kootenay. Auto workers in Windsor. Fisherman in Iqaluit. Students from Charlottetown to Lethbridge to Vancouver, and millions of others across this land, are watching all of this unfold. Scratching their heads and thinking : “What does public trust even mean anymore?”
I wish I knew.