The unbelievable matter of Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright - Macleans.ca

The unbelievable matter of Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright

Has the Harper government come across something it can’t easily get away with?

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For the eternal record, here is the statement of Nigel Wright this morning.

“In light of the controversy surrounding my handling of matters involving Senator Duffy, the Prime Minister has accepted my resignation as Chief of Staff.

“My actions were intended solely to secure the repayment of funds, which I considered to be in the public interest, and I accept sole responsibility. I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.

“I regret the impact of this matter on the Government, our Caucus, and all of my colleagues, for whom I have the highest regard. I came to Ottawa to do my part in providing good government for Canada, and that is all that I ever wanted and worked for in this role.”

And here is the statement of the Prime Minister.

“It is with great regret that I have accepted the resignation of Nigel Wright as my Chief of Staff. I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign. I want to thank Nigel for his tremendous contribution to our Government over the past two and a half years.

“Our Government’s top priority is, and will continue to be, securing jobs and economic growth for Canada. This is the focus of all our efforts and attention.”

That last sentence of the Prime Minister’s is a bit silly given everything that has been the focus of his office’s effort and attention this past week, but perhaps he can’t be blamed for trying to conclude on a positive note.

It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Wright had offered his resignation before this morning. As of Thursday, the Prime Minister’s director of communications was refusing to say whether such an offer had been made and the Prime Minister was said to have full confidence in his chief of staff. (Update 12:40pm. An insider offers one version of events to the Globe.)

It has only gotten worse since then.

Mr. Wright has been reported to have been involved in a deal to whitewash the Senate investigation of Mike Duffy. Pamela Wallin has departed the Conservative caucus amid questions about her spending. Patrick Brazeau has produced an email that he says is evidence he did nothing wrong in claiming a housing allowance. And an anonymous Conservative MP has claimed to be “full of rage” over the whole thing. CTV’s Robert Fife is apparently reporting that Conservative MPs wanted Mr. Wright to depart.

Rob Walsh, former parliamentary law clerk, gave an interview last week to CBC radio’s The House, in which he used the phrase “unbelievable” to describe Mr. Wright’s cheque for Mr. Duffy. Here are four of the five.

This, to me, is unbelievable, frankly. It just simply is unbelievable. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It is unbelievable, to my judgement, at that level something like this could have happened.

Where did they think they were going with this? It’s just simply unbelievable. That’s why it begs for explanation […] a credible explanation, ostensibly by some third party, not the Senate doing its explanation and the Prime Minister’s Office doing their explanation, which should be forthcoming, no question. They need some referee to step in and look at the facts and examine it and report to Canadians whether there was anything that puts into question the integrity of the government or the Senate.

Unbelievable, of course, has a couple meanings, but either might be applied here. It is an adjective that all sides might agree to apply to this mess. But it is something that must be accounted for, regardless of whether Mr. Wright was to be working now for the Prime Minister or Gerry Schwartz or whoever. What were the terms of his deal with Mike Duffy? At the very least there should be House committee hearings, perhaps as early as this week (perhaps encouraged by the government backbenchers who have lately sought to demonstrate their interest in the principles of parliamentary democracy?), to begin to investigate this matter. Mr. Wright should be called for. Mr. Duffy should be invited.

This government has always seemed to have a keen understanding of what it could get away with or at least an ability to get away with things. No one had to resign over in-and-out and the government won a promotion after being found in contempt of Parliament. Maybe all governments possess such resiliency, up until the point that they don’t. Maybe this government has finally done something that it cannot so easily get away with. For now, it is simply unbelievable that it is Mike Duffy’s housing allowance that should shake this government like nothing else since the late fall of 2008.

More from John Geddes and Paul Wells.