The sketch: Stephen Harper tries to back away quietly

As the sea of troubles laps at his shores

by Aaron Wherry

The Prime Minister might’ve stood yesterday and ventured before the House that the Senate was an independent institution, responsible for its own affairs and beyond the reach of his authority. But then probably everyone would have laughed at him.

“What does the government have to hide?” Thomas Mulcair had asked, simultaneously pleading and charging with his hands, in the first of what would be five questions in a single intervention. “Why does it not allow the Senate to hear Michael Runia? We know that he is the Conservative Party’s own auditor. Why, if the Conservatives have nothing to hide, do they have an interest in blocking Runia’s testimony? Why do they keep interfering in the Senate? Why block this testimony?”

If Mr. Harper wasn’t going to attempt to claim that the Senate existed within tamper-proof packaging, he might have cast some aspersion upon Mr. Mulcair. He might’ve offered a few perfunctory sentences that were vaguely applicable and then offered some variation on I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I? Or he might’ve pronounced himself profoundly saddened with Mr. Mulcair’s tone—invoking some piety about how counter-productive it is to throw mud in another’s direction.

Instead, the Prime Minister stood and offered an entirely benign sentence.

“Mr. Speaker, the auditors have in fact already testified before the Senate and they have testified to the integrity of their audit.”

Mr. Mulcair seemed unpersuaded.

“Mr. Speaker, all of them, except for one. That one, his friend, Irving Gerstein, phoned to try to influence the audit of Mike Duffy. He knows that is the one we are talking about,” the NDP leader explained, lest anyone was of the impression that the Prime Minister was blissfully unaware of the matter to which Mr. Mulcair referred.

“We have got an 81-page report from the RCMP that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his office has been controlling everything in the Senate,” Mr. Mulcair continued. “Why are the Conservatives blocking Runia if they have got nothing to hide?”

Once more to the Prime Minister and his perfectly benign reportage.

“Mr. Speaker, the auditors who performed the audit have already testified before the Senate and they testified to the integrity of their audit.”

As the Duffy-Wright affair continues to spread far and wide and in endlessly new directions like a massive glass of spilled milk—touching now on everything from the government’s policies on email retention to questions about the Senate’s ability or willingness to investigate what one of its own members might’ve done in relation to an independent audit of another of its members—the government seems newly interested in being as understated as possible. Save for a vague reference to the matter of Liberal Senator Colin Kenny and a bit of worrying about the opposition leader’s unwillingness to accept the government’s explanation, Mr. Harper and his parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, made it through a combined 17 responses yesterday to questions about said scandal without much in the way of either sturm or drang.

Perhaps someone decided that the casting of aspersions in other directions was not particularly flattering the government side. Perhaps, as a colleague suggested to me, the government side now just wants to make it quietly into the Christmas break.

Not that the condemnation and declaration of previous days was replaced with much in the way explanation and exposition this day.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Mulcair asked, “did the Prime Minister know about the original plan to pay off Mike Duffy’s expenses using money from the Conservative Party, yes or no?”

We have been over this. Possibly the NDP leader was interested in giving the Prime Minister one more chance to say, “no.” But apparently the Prime Minister was not much interested in being so succinct.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “as I have said repeatedly, it was always conveyed to me that Mr. Duffy would repay his own expenses. Not only is that what I was told; Mr. Duffy himself said publicly that he had done that. The fact of the matter, of course, is that was not true. Mr. Duffy had received money from somebody else who had effectively done that for him, and that was not properly disclosed and was misrepresented. For that reason, we have taken the appropriate actions.”

Mr. Mulcair was rather unimpressed.

Two weeks ago, in conversation with the CBC’s Evan Solomon, the Prime Minister’s director of communications said that, “the Prime Minister had no knowledge of the conversation that would see the Conservative Fund repay Mr. Duffy’s expenses.”

Asked that same weekend by CTV’s Robert Fife whether the Prime Minister was aware that “his office had asked the Conservative party to pay Duffy’s invalid expenses and his legal fees,” Jason Macdonald responded, “Absolutely not.”

The NDP leader, a rather entitled sort, seemed to think that Mr. Harper might say something similar in response to his question.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister’s spokesman has given a clear answer to that question. It is just different,” Mr. Mulcair charged. “Why is the Prime Minister afraid to give a straight answer? Why is his spokesman allowed to give straight answers? Is it because his spokesman is allowed to lie and the Prime Minister is not?”

The Conservatives howled. There were chants of “Out! Out!”—apparently to suggest that Mr. Mulcair might be ejected for this insinuation about the Prime Minister’s spokesman. The Speaker stood to interject.

“I do not know if those types of accusations are helpful to the debate,” Andrew Scheer wondered aloud.

The Prime Minister sat turned towards the Speaker with his hands clasped, listening Mr. Mulcair shrugged and threw up his hands, apparently unclear as to how precisely he might’ve transgressed.

“Order, please,” the Speaker pleaded. “I would ask members to avoid trying to insinuate or to make implications either about sitting parliamentarians or about using the protection of this place with regard to a private individual who does not have the ability to defend himself or herself. But I will allow the honourable leader of the opposition to pose a supplemental.”

The NDP leader stood and returned to his original question. “Mr. Speaker, did the Prime Minister know about the original plan to have the Conservative Party pay Mike Duffy’s expenses, yes or no?”

Mr. Harper stood and came closer to what his spokesman had said. “Mr. Speaker, of course I have answered that question on many occasions,” he ventured. “It was always conveyed to me that it was Mr. Duffy who was going to pay Mr. Duffy’s expenses, not the Conservative Party, not Nigel Wright, not anybody else.”

Now Mr. Harper expressed his disappointment in Mr. Mulcair. “We have been crystal clear on that,” the Prime Minister pronounced, now gesturing in the NDP leader’s direction. “The leader of the opposition knows what the answer is to that question. He knows what the truth is. It is he who is determined to ignore the truth.”

Maybe so. But all the same, it is somewhat exhausting that there should have to be so much parsing.

At one point in the hour, in response to a question about what the Privy Council Office had done and said in terms of whose emails were being sought, Mr. Harper seemed to attempt to clarify the nature of the problem here.

“What is unacceptable here is the event that took place, the payment that was not properly disclosed,” he said. “It was misrepresented, and for that reason we have taken action and the two individuals in question are under investigation.”

There is something to this. As the Prime Minister said a week ago, “The real issue is that Senator Duffy made inappropriate expense claims and claimed publicly that he had repaid them, when he knew that was not the case. It was in fact Mr. Wright who repaid them, and Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy did not properly disclose this transaction.”

These are, perhaps, the most unacceptable aspects of this affair. But what of everything else? How acceptable was the behaviour of everyone else involved? How acceptable was the editing of the Senate report on Mr. Duffy? How acceptable were Mr. Gerstein’s interactions with Deloitte? How acceptable is the Senate’s reluctance to further investigate Mr. Gerstein’s interactions with Deloitte? How acceptable were the suspensions of Mr. Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau? How acceptable is the PMO’s policy on email deletion? How acceptable is it that three weeks after Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy was revealed that Mr. Harper was apparently unaware of who in his office had been aware of that payment? How acceptable has been the Prime Minister’s response to all of this?

The trouble for Mr. Harper remains mainly that Mr. Wright cut Mr. Duffy a cheque for $90,000 and that that might eventually result in formal charges. But that trouble continues to lead to new troubles. And so now there is a sea of troubles lapping at Mr. Harper’s shores.

So perhaps it is no use shaking your fist at the storm clouds, that will only make you look crazy. Rather stuff the bags with sand and wait for the flood to recede. Or at least hope that it eventually does.

The sketch: Stephen Harper tries to back away quietly

  1. “Perhaps, as a colleague suggested to me, the government side now just wants to make it quietly into the Christmas break.”

    Usually the cessation of hostilities and insults from the govt side signals they think they have won. Harper seems to believe his sargeant Shultz defense, aided by some nifty footwork in the senate will, and has, got him through this.
    ” I know nuthing! ”

    Surely even he has to realize that while he isn’t sunk yet, his little ship has a hole in it the size of a bus?

    It doesn’t have to be true Stephen, just plausible remember. And right now you got no credibility or plausibility left in the country, outside of the core partisans. Play with the “bull” you gonna get the horn eventually bud. You got yours, and there’s no fixing that with appeals to reason now. Not for you anyway.

    • “I guess Dobbin is a leftie of some sort”
      Somebody just won the steak knives for British understatement of the day.

      • Well even I’ve heard rumors about him. The point is the article is well argued, and certainly better then the bilge coming out of some of the right. Conrad and Jonas take a bow.

        • Still aground on that lee shore I see.

          • On a left shore actually so it seems.

          • You know, troubles are lapping at our shores. Lap lap.

      • just because someone is left of you doesn’t automatically make them a leftie… they are just to the left of you.

        • Even more pertinent, is the article good? I think it is. Right left doesn’t enter into it.My bad for starting this.

          • Oh I wouldn’t beat yourself up about that. Remember you are dealing with a group who defines anyone who disagrees with them as a leftie, a pinko or a commie depending how old they are. They would have pointed out the leftie-ness of your source soon enough.
            It’s all part of their persecution complex and quite pitiful to watch.

          • “My bad for starting this.”

            Nope, not your bad. It’s not your problem that some commentors here will leap into ad hominem attacks given the slightest opening. It doesn’t mean you should avoid contributing relevant links.

          • Thx, but i was just talking about mentioning the leftie thing. Agreed no none should be intimidated by these half wits.

      • Actually you can have them back. How many folks outside of BC know who Dobbin is? I’ll excuse myself too since i’m into the tyee onceor twice a year if i’m lucky. But i’ll upgrade him to full blown leftie to keep you happy.

        • Er,… lots of people know who Dobbin is … Time was
          he had a fairly prominent voice. Then, the media world
          changed and he was disappeared. Happens, eh.

          • News to me. I’m curious though [and too lazy to google] was he a someone in the 80s like Dyer or Salutin, someone who sought’a got disappeared in this country? Or at least seconded to the left coast. Not a bad place to be at all.

  2. Wow!
    I had no idea there was a Senate Scandal happening.
    Thankfully we have an intrepid reporter working late into a Friday afternoon to tell us this Good News. Every bit of this news is as fresh as the non-repetitive questions and answers we have heard for the past 60 days in Question Period. Let`s rehash the same old stuff. Keeps the locals happy I guess.
    By the way, anything else happen around the world the past 24 hours or so. Maybe a life to remember in Africa, or lives here.

    • Maybe you forget to look at the macleans menu portal on the way in. It’s amazing how these guys can walk and chew gum at the same time.

      • Sure, and you and Wherry can rehash the impropriety of one Conservative paying off the bills of another.
        Meanwhile the world passes you by.

        • That’s a good one. You seriously believe you can use Mandela’s passing as a reason to say, move on folks?
          The world hasn’t passed you by since you seem to be living in another dimension altogehter.

        • Yeah because that is all it was hey?
          Senators from a purportedly independent Senate saying they’ll do what ever Nigel wants them to do.

          Senators pulling strings to try and gain information about a confidential audit.

          Information about that audit being leaked out anyway and being released to the PMO.
          The PMs CoS paying a sitting Senator to shut up and not co-operate with an official audit.
          At least 3 people in the PMO including the PM’s own lawyer looking to subvert that same audit.
          The audit costing 100s of 1000s of tax payer’s money.

          Yeah saving the tax payer 90k while costing 1000s more and undermining parliamentary democracy to boot.
          No wonder you vote reform.

  3. Yahoo Canada reported that in Nov. the most searched item in its economics and political section was “senate scandal.” But, as Conservatives happily chirp, no one outside of Ottawa is interested, let’s get back to governing Canada and continuing on our positive economic future. I agree, let’s dump Harper and get on with the show, Mr. Trudeau your time awaits and you’re being called to save the remnants of our good Canada from further spoilage.

    • Yeah, but to be fair: it’s Yahoo. Who still uses Yahoo? Why not use a more representative, widely-used search engine’s statistics like Google?
      On top of that, it’s not even in Yahoo’s overall searches. It’s in the sub-category of “Economics and political section.”

      • it is, however you wish to parse it, a reflection of Canadian’s deep interest in the painful, sometimes incredulous, demise of Harper and his staff.

        • The top Canadian Yahoo searches also include Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian and Fifty Shades of Gray. With the exception of Rob Ford also topping the list, I think that says it all about Canadians’ deep interest in politics.

  4. You know I really liked Harper, and even voted for his party. Now the tide has turned. He shows complete lack of respect or acknowledgement to the sentiment of Canadians and seems to have no issue with that. His moral standing is below PAR and he definitely seems influenced more now by the lobbying of special interest groups.
    I would like to see someone who speaks from the heart the truth and has the best interest of the average Canadians at heart. The Canadians that work 7:30 – 6pm everyday and pay daycare and go to school and take a bus.
    Harper is not for me anymore. Maybe as you get older you get wiser. But now the Canada I would like to see is one that offers a high quality of living at low cost for families and all people. We are BLESSED with natural resources (lumber, wind, sun, oil and wheat and potash to name a few) so there should be NO POVERTY in Canada.
    We should be valuing our lands and our people and have an open season of job innovation. Let’s join the Renewable Energy Race! Let’s subsidize daycare!
    Common people, think and be creative and we can change the world!!

    • You never supported this government. Free daycare, renewable energy and “valuing our lands” sound more like an NDP mantra.

      • Not only that, but “You know I really liked Harper, and even voted for his party.” indicates that Thalia understands the difference between voting for the local Conservative candidate and voting for Harper himself in his own riding.

        Thalia is waaay to smart to be a Conservative.

      • For your information I like to call myself a “Social Conservative”. I do not aspire to be an extreme-right capitalist that honours the “I Win, You Lose” political mantra. I have more heart and compassion.
        The only reason the Canadian dollar is falling, along with Canadian jobs, is because this bought-government is putting all it’s economic eggs in Oil and Gas. So our dollar is falling as the Canadian crude falls. Why is this? With such plentiful natural resources (including Wind energy and Hydro and Solar) in Canada we should be leading the New Energy (Renewable) Revolution, but we are stuck (vis excessive lobbying by a select few of investors) to remain in the old Energy industry. Meanwhile, as the rest of the world evolves and embraces renewable energy we are falling behind. Then so should this sitting duck government.

        • How would you propose shipping “new energy” over seas? Canada’s oil is mostly shipped out of the country. No sensible conservative would propose that we’re somehow better off leaving that wealth in the ground. A large reason for many of the jobs leaving Canada is due to incompetent energy policies promoted by Ontario (mainly) that result in skyrocketing energy prices, which make doing business in Canada uneconomical.

  5. Gerstien acted on Wright’s request;

    the Senate report was changed on Wright’s request,

    lawyers followed Wright’s requests,

    Wright wrote the cheque…

    why are the Opps and media afraid to go after the guy who is responsible for it all??

    Opps and media attack every player but not the man at the center of it all, Nigel Wright.

    • Fine. Now get your guy, Harper, to explain the PMO’s evident meddling in an “independent” senate audit. Oh yeah, and the accumulating body of evidence strongly suggesting that a large number of senior staffers in the PMO colluded to cover up the illegal payment of an inducement to a sitting member of parliament.

      If Harper would only make these niggling little problems go away, too, perhaps we could get back to the task at hand, which to recapture democratic governance and the integrity of Canadian parliamentary institutions from him and his coterie of ethically-bereft grifters.

      • Speaking of cover-ups, perhaps we can get an honest explanation from Thomas Mulcair about why he covered up being offered bribes for over a decade?

        • It wasn’t bribes, it was allegedly a single bribe. And it’s not illegal to be offered a bribe. (In any event, had he reported it at the time without corroborating evidence, no Crown attorney would have laid charges and the allegation would have accomplished nothing).

          The fact that Cons keep mewling about that old incident just serves to hi-lite the fact that he didn’t accept it.

          Which is apparently more than can be said about one of Harper’s brilliant appointments to the Senate.

          So, go ahead and regurgitate that stale accusation at every opportunity. It’s not sticking and it only helps to differentiate Mulcair from the scam artists in the PMO who are, in the opinion of the investigating Mounties, apparently quite prepared to offer bribes, which is illegal.

    • Because, to use a rather juvenile but appropriate expression, Mr Harper is the boss of Nigel Wright

    • Of course, if Wright did everything, then: Stephen Harper. Not a leader.

    • The media is after the guy responsible for all ,,,,HARPER the CRIME Minister,,,,,

  6. What is all this Senate scandal anyway? To the CBC and Maclean’s and question period it seems to be all consuming, and having been out of the country for a while I am having trouble figuring it out. Correct me if I am wrong but this is how I see it. One of Harper’s appointed senators went a little off the tracks and overstated his entitlements. I doubt this is the first time it’s happened with a senator, but that’s another story. Someone from the PMO attempted to make it better by lending him the money to repay his debts so Canadians wouldn’t be on the hook for the cash. There was a minor attempt to keep all this on the Q.T. Maybe even a few fibs were told along the way.

    Apparently this has been the lead story on the CBC for 6 months and has totally consumed Mr. Mulcair during QP for the same length of time. What I have seen is the same questions being asked day after day and CBC reporting the same story for the first 20 minutes of the National every evening.

    Am I right to assume during all this time that no accusations of envelopes containing taxpayer money changing hands, no influence peddling, vote buying, insider trading, or screwing Canadians in any other way.

    Good Lord Canada, grow up. While this is not showing government officials in a pure light, it surely isn’t the end of the world. And someone questioned why poverty still exists in Canada. Maybe if someone changed the subject, we might find out. And for all you Harper Haters, please remember Quebec and stuffed envelopes.

    • Quebec is that Mulroney? Your right and he even stole the furniture on his way out of Sussex Drive! Small peanuts compared to our Crïme Minister!

    • Sure, let’s break this down:

      “Someone from the PMO attempted to make it better by lending him the
      money to repay his debts so Canadians wouldn’t be on the hook for the
      cash.”

      This type of transaction is illegal and will likely result in indictment of the parties responsible. The question of who the responsible parties are, is, therefore, rather important. Either way, it reflects badly on the PM–he was either oblivious to illegal activities going on under his watch, or was complicit in them. Either way, this is somewhat ironic given that this government’s own Accountability Act expressly placed responsibility for illegal activities carried out within a ministry on the shoulders of the elected minister.

      There are other suspicious activities associated with this case–the Senate audit of Duffy’s expenses was clearly whitewashed of wrongdoing. If this was a result of the PMO’s intervention, then this is a serious ethical breach on the part of the Senators who undertook the process.

      This scandal isn’t about money per se–the funds that we’re talking about are quite small by the scale of government (though few Canadians are likely to have friends willing to cut them $90,000 cheques)–it’s a scandal about ethics. In practice, ethical lapses are often treated much more seriously than financial ones–the government cannot account for some 3 billion dollars of taxpayer money, just from this year, for example, and nobody cares.

    • Don’t talk too loud about Que.and stuffed envelopes. Harper was part of that government too and he shouldn’t have allowed it to happen either. Many that put him in the PM’s office should have cut him off at that point.

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