The PM and Senator Don Plett appeal to caution and discretion

‘The more we throw mud, the more we lose ground’

Offended by the opposition leader’s supposition, the Prime Minister called for decency.

“When I look at the NDP I remember the old saying,” Mr. Harper said, “the more we throw mud, the more we lose ground.”

The Conservatives stood and cheered their agreement.

The mud, in this case, was directed at Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen. Ms. Stewart Olsen’s expenses were subjected to question by a reporter earlier this month and now Thomas Mulcair was standing in the House and accusing her of being involved in the same sort of scandal that was threatening the senatorial careers of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Harper responded, “nothing proves such a claim. The honourable member is now just starting to throw mud without any facts whatsoever. The senator herself has said that is not correct. I am not aware on what basis he is saying that, but when I look at the NDP I remember the old saying, the more we throw mud, the more we lose ground.”

The Prime Minister was likely on to something here—there is no finding against Ms. Stewart Olsen and she has said a review with the Senate found nothing improper—even if otherwise his opponents might find something ironic in his remarks. Probably we need to take a deep breath. And surely what we need right now is to find solid ground.

But if yesterday was the Prime Minister’s moment to grab hold of the one detail that is not in dispute here—that he told Mr. Duffy to repay the allowance the senator had rather debatably claimed—today was the opposition’s turn to point furiously at everything that could be said to be subject to any amount of doubt, to grab everything that was not already nailed down (and then hurl it across the room).

What about Ray Novak? What exactly happened at that February 13 meeting of the Conservative caucus? Did the Prime Minister threaten Mr. Duffy with expulsion from the Senate? Did Mr. Wright or Mr. Novak or Ms. Stewart Olsen threaten to have Mr. Duffy expelled from the Senate? What about Chris Woodcock? Why didn’t the Prime Minister fire the staff members who apparently didn’t tell him he was incorrect when he told the House that Mr. Wright had not told any member of Mr. Harper’s office what he had done? And how many is a few?

That last one was Mr. Mulcair’s attempt to question Mr. Harper’s assertion that Mr. Wright had only told a “very few” what he had done.

Though the questions might’ve generally been specific, the NDP leader almost entirely abandoned the restrained manner of previous cross-examinations. His shoulders bounced and his hands chopped and massaged the air in front of him. He smiled and, at one point, adopted a silly voice to mock the Prime Minister. The Conservatives groaned. If yesterday was Mr. Harper’s day to demonstrate, today was more Mr. Mulcair’s. In fairness, it was the NDP leader’s birthday.

When Mr. Mulcair scorned the Prime Minister for voting against an NDP proposal to ban senators from partisan activities, the Prime Minister responded that, “The solution is not to have senators or anybody else pretend they are non-partisan. It is to have them elected so they are accountable to the Canadian people.”

The NDP leader took advantage of the opening. “How is that going, the elected Senate?” he asked, eyebrow raised, seemingly in reference to the Quebec Court of Appeal’s ruling of just hours earlier. The New Democrats laughed.

Down the hall, the Senate was moving towards its third day of trying to decide what to do about Mr. Duffy, Mr. Brazeau and Ms. Wallin.

However objectionable its existence might be, there is at least still an air of decency to the upper chamber. The gold ceiling, the red leather chairs, the ornately carved sandstone, the grand paintings on the west and east walls. When a speech is concluded, a senator seeking to respond must first ask if the speaker will accept questions and apparently the original speaker always says yes. Permission to continue talking seems to be generously granted. At six o’clock or thereabouts everyone breaks for dinner. And the fact that none of it can be heard unless some television network decides to broadcast the audio lends a certain old timey quaintness. Like it’s World War II and we’re all crowding around the old wireless to hear the King’s speech. Only in this case it’s Mike Duffy explaining how he got nasty phone messages from another senator telling him to do what the Prime Minister wanted for the good of the party.

So it is that, unfortunately for the Senate, and for the Prime Minister, there is much muck about and much of this remains muddy.

Before the Prime Minister had warned everyone against the hurling of soil—but, granted, after Liberal house leader Dominic LeBlanc had accused the Prime Minister’s current chief of staff of participating in “what appears to be extortion and covering up the Conservative bribe” —he had castigated the Liberal side for blocking action against the Senate’s infamous trio.

“The allegations contained in that question are completely false and designed to do one thing,” Mr. Harper ventured, “and that is to deflect attention from the fact that it is Liberal senators and the Liberal Party that refuses any reform in the Senate and refuses any attempt to discipline any senators who have behaved inappropriately.”

After Question Period, a member of Mr. Harper’s caucus, Peter Goldring, would tell reporters that the motions were unconstitutional and that the Governor General should intervene. But it was most particularly inconvenient for narrative purposes that Don Plett, a former president of the Conservative party appointed to the Senate by Mr. Harper in 2009, stood in the red chamber a short while later and announced that he could not support the government leader’s motions without amendments.

“The problem here,” he said, “is that we are trying to oversimplify a complex issue with a quick fix at the expense of three individuals, before giving them the opportunity to defend themselves and before we have had the opportunity to examine all of the facts of the respective cases.”

Probably there is something to this sort of thinking.

In the mind of perhaps the last Conservative willing to be seen with Mr. Duffy and to be heard referring to him as a friend, the three senators were still entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence. The process here was flawed and the proposed penalty—suspension without pay—too severe in the circumstances. “To prematurely remove the medical benefits of a cancer survivor, a heart patient and a father of young children before allowing due process to run it’s course is, in my opinion, unconscionable,” he offered.

In closing, he recalled his father. “My father introduced me to the world of politics at the young age of 15,” he said. “He counselled and mentored me. He was a Conservative all his life. But first and foremost, he was a man of ethics and integrity. He taught me not to let politics get in the way of doing the right thing. He taught me to vote my conscience.”

He finished by begging his fellow “honourable senators,” to do the “right thing.”

It is a testament only to these strange days that this was perhaps only the fourth-most-remarkable speech in the Senate this week.

The PM and Senator Don Plett appeal to caution and discretion

  1. “Do the right thing” as in “Don’t endanger the sanctity of the very seat you’re sitting on, buckeroo, lest the bell toll for thee as fast as PMO can find its executioner’s balaclava.”

  2. ‘And the fact that none of it can be heard unless some television network
    decides to broadcast the audio lends a certain old timey quaintness.
    Like it’s World War II and we’re all crowding around the old wireless to
    hear the King’s speech’

    Yes, indeedy.

  3. Wow!
    Talk about a partisan, pro-Conservative article!
    If you have been watching the CBC interviews with Mulcair, you may have noticed that the man showed nothing but calm aplomb. I also watched him in the House, and if he was not calm, cool and collected it was the way Harper avoided answering any of his questions directly, sliding smoothly around each topic like a snake.

    • He was god. He would likely be a good courtroom lawyer. I am not sure that means he is PM material though.

      • Er, that would be “he was good”

  4. “When I look at the NDP I remember the old saying,” Mr. Harper said, “the more we throw mud, the more we lose ground.”

    One might take this opportunity to remind the Prime Minister that his own caucus accuses the other side of such things as “siding with the child pornographers” and “wanting to inject heroin into the veins of children”. As such, the ground being lost is pretty much uniquely blue in colour.

    • This is karma-esque — no government has slung mud and shit around like this one. And now, they find themselves up to their necks in it. Looks good on steve.

      In all of this, have you ever wondered if Pam or Mike or even Steve have regretted any of their actions? I bet they haven’t — they are all such self-serving, greedy little boors.

      • Greedy? Like Justin Trudeau taking tens of thousands of dollars from charities and school children to line his own pockets?

        • You forgot the time he handed out marijuana to the neighbourhood kids at Hallowe’en! Oh, that Justin.

  5. The wisest comment I’ve heard came from Chantal Hebert last night on television.

    To paraphrase: The governing Conservative Party is well within it’s rights to suspend members from its own caucus because they disagree with them or just don’t like them. But it is an entirely different thing to use your majority to expel members you don’t like from a legislative branch of government. THAT is a horrible precedent.

    I know this Senate action is not what the Americans call Impeachment. But they do as i recall put the bar for expulsion very high; something called “high crimes and misdemeanours”. That standard should apply in this case. But all we have is a few petty little expense account screw ups. Not treason, conspiracy, spying for a foreign power, murder. Nothing.

    This is a one hundred percent political prosecution. It has nothing to do with the well being of the nation.

    • Heh. I love it when folks show up to say that mis spending of my hard earned money is not an issue of the well being of the nation. Just think, if we start thinking like that we might see some Ontario Liberal heads on spikes outside the legislature. A nation wide shortage of chickens as the abundance of bitumen in this country is put to good use.

      How dare the Prime Minister use his authority and threats to get a guy who ripped off $70k or so to pay it back! I get letters threatening prosecution and imprisonment if I don’t remit sales taxes. There is a guy in my little town who did real jail time because he didn’t pay his taxes. Wasn’t there some nice woman recently who faced prosecution because she didn’t want to fill out a form?

      Oh these meanies.

      • And lest we forget, those eastern conservative scum were the impetus behind the long train of events that led to Harper being Prime Minister.

      • Really? You love it when folks do that?

        I love it when folks think it is perfectly fine when their party of choice ignores the principles of justice that have been developed in the western world over the past few hundred years because it is politically expedient to do so.

        No one here is defending these senators – they are defending a process that developed to ensure justice is done. Guilt should never be determined by popular opinion, or because the Prime Minister really really needs you to find guilt because otherwise it hurts him politically.

        The PM is NOT using his “authority” here – he is directed his party to act in excess of his authority.

        And in any event, to address your dubious point, you are comparing not paying a few dollars in taxes to treason, spying for a foreign power and murder.

        • I love it when the likes of steve harper is forcd to rise in the HoC and defend himself against the cool prosecutorial tones of Mulcair. I love it when you can see his face visibly darken and flush, and even his voice tremble slightly as he changes his story, from skin-saving lie to lie. I love it when this all happens, publicly, while Justin Trudeau sits with Madeline Allbright in US and says he won’t speak ill of the pm back in Canada.

          • Yeah. I kind of like that too. :)

          • Justin’s dreamy.

          • Yes, and Harper’s corrupt.

      • Yea let’s compare it to Harper and his personal entourage including private hair dresser flying around on his private repainted jet, and a 10 car motorcade just to get to work everyday,

  6. Surely the emperor of mud-slinging is Harper himself. How too ironic for him to criticize the opposition for taking a leaf from his own book. He’s perfected the art of political character assassination as Messrs. Dion, Ignatieff, and Martin would testify.

    Problem is, that’s Stephen’s only true talent – the politics of politics. And Justin Trudeau is proving far more elusive to snare in his nasty trap. And clearly Mulcair can more than stand up for himself.

    Be still my beating heart. But for Harper and co., this feels like the beginning of the end.

    • Burn the witch!

      • Due process my friend; let’s see if he floats first.

  7. It’s amazing how the opposition has flip flopped on this so-called “scandal”. First they accuse Duffy of outright theft, now they defend him because they believe it’ll be politically expedient for them.

    This “scandal” will be finished as soon as the Senate votes, no matter which way they vote.

    The only one who’s been consistent from the start has been Harper, and frankly he’s been right from the start (with the exception of appointing Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau – I don’t think anybody would say that wasn’t an error, in hindsight).

    • What we are defending is the concept known as “due process.” I find it interesting how so many Conservatives find Plett’s speech so hard to swallow – and yet those of us who aren’t so hyper-partisan see in it a shining example of how things ought to be.
      It is pretty clear to many of us that (a) this little kangaroo court is about trying to get the Senate scandal off the front pages and (b) that without due process any other Senator will, going forward, have to fear being tossed on a whim of the majority – maybe for something as simple as voting against a favoured bill. The whole point of being appointed for life is to provide secutity and freedom to speak, and to prevent exactly the kind of travesty we see here today.
      And yes, before you ask, I’m pretty sure all this has been orchestrated by the PMO (I’d say the PM but I’m sure, as always, he has taken great care to ensure deniability). Probably by the same 13 (or their replacements) who – until yesterday – Harper said knew nothing. (What’s that? Harper caught in a lie? Who’da thunk it???)

    • BTW – the scandal is at least as much about what role Harper played in all this, as it is about the shady expense claims; what he knew; and when he knew it. In light of his being caught in one lie so far (see yesterday’s QP where he now admits that quite a few “nobodies” from the PMO were in the loop re the cheque-cutting), getting these three out of the Senate isn’t going to settle things. As much as you and Francien would like to think it will.

      • Harper found out Duffy had illegal expenses. He told him if he wanted to have any chance of remaining in caucus, he had to repay them. What a “scandal”!!!!

        • As if that were all that happened. Keep spinning, Rick; sooner or later you’ll pop out in China.

        • You wouldn’t know a scandal if it smacked you in the face. That’s what happened to most Canadians we received a smack into reality.

    • No one excuses the senators for making false claims the RCMP are investigating that and the 90K check. Harper has not been consistent he has been caught in lies (the timeline shows that). First only Nigel knew, second only a couple knew but apparently it is 13 (both in the PMO and Senate). Bribes/Threats against sitting senators is punishable by law. Party line really doesn’t matter. One needs to protect democracy that is Canada. If this is happening don’t you want to know?

  8. Stephen Harper feigning shock and surprise that mud is being slung in the House of Commons — a little bit too rich for my taste. I only wish that Madge from the old Palmolive commercials were here to inform him — “Steve, you’re soaking in it!”

    • Honestly, it seems no one is looking at the big picture here. Despite expense claims being in question and under investigation, I find myself looking at millions upon millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money being spent arguing about this, wasting more time, money, government resources, time and energy, in both levels of government, while I find myself asking the same question at the end of the day.. how much MORE are you wasting not getting DAY TO DAY business DONE in the house of commons and the senate because you’re busy arguing about less than a couple hundred thousand dollars! Let the RCMP investigate, let the truth come out in a court of law, and quit wasting tax dollars of highly paid government officials, by miring this down into what amounts to a bunch of political posturing. Do you know why no one seems to care about this Because we’re too busy paying your salaries and getting ever increasingly annoyed at our political leaders doing everything they can to keep up appearances. The price of the schoolyard fist-fighting amongst you all is going to end up costing we, the taxpayers, TEN-FOULD.. If I were you all, I’d recommend a bi-partisan agreement to not waste our time and money arguing about it when there’s real problems and real issues that our government is too busy arguing about to actually WORK ON SOMETHING ELSE. The RCMP will find the money, and let the courts handle it!

      • I can only imagine you in Mussolini’s time — “Let’s just keep those trains moving on time!” — or during the Watergate scandal — “Nothing to see here! Just a nickel-and-dime break-in here! We’re all just wasting tax dollars here!”

        This scandal — and Harper’s out-of-control reaction to it — goes to the heart of his character and his fitness to serve as PM. Maybe you need to open your eyes a bit bigger and see the real big picture here.

      • If that is your concern, I suggest you email the Prime Minister and let him know, as they are debating a government motion right now. Maybe he will agree with you and withdraw it.

    • Harper knows about slinging mud.

  9. Senator Don Plett tried to protect Harper from Duffy that he cannot can go public and tell some interesting facts. Don Plett was able to cover up his expenses during his latest trips to Russia and China and is changing his residency in Ottawa every year while top it to maximum. Cannot understand how Harper can be trusted if he is supported by Don Plett that renting an apartment in Ottawa with glass ceiling in bedroom and his naked wife’s photos around family photos on walls. Or John Baird, that having parties in Canada official residence in London.

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