Need to know: Harper's latest insulation from the Wright-Duffy affair -

Need to know: Harper’s latest insulation from the Wright-Duffy affair

The Tories passed new guidelines to shield bosses from their staff’s indiscretions


Adrian Wyld/CP

Stephen Harper’s stuck blindly to the same stubborn defence for months. He didn’t know his former chief of staff paid the improperly claimed expenses of a former star Conservative senator. Believe that or don’t believe that. Few reporters do. Based on the relatively poor Conservative showing in three by-elections on Monday night, when the party lost ground in Toronto, Montreal, and even Brandon, Man., a big chunk of voters no longer trust the PM’s word. Not something to put wind in the sails, that kind of support.

Untrustworthy though Harper’s story may be, what’s unclear is what happens next. The opposition gets nowhere with its own search for the truth, despite NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s best attempts at parliamentary prosecution. The PM’s delegated stand-in, parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra, offers a comical defence of whatever role several of Harper’s staff played in the Wright-Duffy affair. Calandra stumbles, and tells little stories, and lashes out, and attempts to lay guilt upon the opposition for this or that past indiscretion. But the PM applauds the comedy, and the opposition can only frustrate itself trying to stymie Calandra.

Today, The Globe and Mail reports of Harper’s latest insulationIf Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not know about the cheque written by his former chief of staff to cover the improperly claimed expenses of Senator Mike Duffy, federal accountability guidelines written by his government suggest he does not need to shoulder responsibility. The old rules said that if someone in a department fouled up, the boss took the heat. That used to be the principle of ministerial responsibility. Not so, anymore, it seems. The Tories changed the guidelines in 2011, and Harper’s no longer responsible for the indiscretions of those who work, or worked, for him.

At a point, these arguments will lose people’s interest. How many people will get riled up about the evolving principle of ministerial responsibility? How many people will remember these battles in the House of Commons over which staffer advised this, or which staffer conspired in that? The story’s stalled. Short of more headlines about the RCMP making further accusations—or, perhaps, laying charges—the Wright-Duffy affair’s future in the House of Commons looks more and more like a perpetual stalemate.

No winners, no losers. Just a bunch of words.


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CBC News U.S. spies were conducting surveillance during 2010 G8 and G20 summits.
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National Newswatch See CTV News’ story.


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Need to know: Harper’s latest insulation from the Wright-Duffy affair

  1. Interesting timeline:

    Fall 2010 – Duffy residency issue becomes public, Duffy applies for PEI health card, asks for assistance in finding island in Google Earth.

    Late Fall 2010- new edition of “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Secretaries of State” is rushed to print, Ministers not so accountable

    Fall 2010- Negotiations with Nigel Wright about assuming Chief of Staff in PMO underway

    Jan 1 2011 – Nigel Wright sworn in, new less accountable, “Accountable Government: A Guide for Ministers and Secretaries of State” becomes policy

    Feb 2011 – Nigel Wright, Harper and Duffy meet

    You have to give the Conservatives some credit for thinking ahead.

    • Meh. I think the Guide angle is a red herring, designed to get us all debating about ministerial accountability (which would be a nice distraction from the heat Harper is taking currently). There is point where simple common sense dictates when a leader is accountable, regardless of technicalities. It’s a crafty strategy for the cons to pursue, but I think (hope!) it will do little more than invoke Shakespeare’s famous lines:

      “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
      An evil soul producing holy witness
      Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
      A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
      O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

      (And I’m not comparing Harper to the devil, before the usual suspects get their shorts in a knot…)

      • that is sensible. I am not sure it will be useful to campaigning on “ha ha suckers! I rewrote the rules so i didn’t have to take responsibility when the guy who runs my office makes hush payments to save my bacon! Guess you’re lookin’ pretty stupid now, eh?”

        • Prime Minister Homer Simpson, LOL…

    • Nowhere in the ITO report is Gerstein quoted as saying that he DID agree to pay the #32,000, yet, members of the media and the opposition leaders pretend that Gerstein HAD approved the payment of $32,000 out of party funds.

      Why does the media and the opposition leaders not want to talk about page 61 of the ITO report, which states:

      e. Mr.Wright stated that Senator Duffy had a liability of
      approximately $30,000 regarding residency, and an additional $12,000 in
      legal expenses. Mr.Wright suggested that the Conservative Fund pay this

      f.He(Senator Gerstein) stated that it is something he
      would consider. The reason that he wanted to consider it was because
      his role as Chair of the fund is specifically to bring revenue to the
      party. Their relationship with their donors and the integrity of the
      fund is of critical importance;

      g. He did not have difficulty
      with paying the legal fees because the fund as looked after legal funds
      for other party members in the past. He did have concerns about the
      optics of paying the $30,000 relating to expense claims;

      • If there’s a moderator reading this – please note this commenter has cut and pasted this same comment multiple times – with no obvious connection to the discussion. Is there any way you can stop this sort of spam commenting?

        • Perhaps you should actually read all of the article.

        • She gets flagged and cut off constantly over at the NP.

      • What does paragraph f) mean?

      • Verhoeven – Calandra of the comment boards

        • Perhaps “Casandra” ??

        • Please. A lesser Calandra

      • Political Parties typically pay the legal expenses of their members.
        Mulclair got $750,000 from the NDP. Chretien and his cronies scored millions.
        Gersteins actions only offend the ignorant.

        • Well said. So true.

          But why do members the media decide NOT to ask Justin Trudeau directly about party funds spent?

    • Finally a crime prevention strategy from this government.

    • Except Duffy has had a home in P.E.I. for some time, and, I pity the neighbours.

  2. “No winners, no losers.” Even if we take Harper at his word, his defence boils down to two assertions. First: there’s been no denial that his highest levels of staff were involved in minimally irregular, and possibly illegal acts (not to mention a repellant degree of interfence with Senate committees, etc..). Second: because he had no knowledge – or even an inkling – that any of this was going on, he is blameless, innocent, and accountable for none of it.

    I don’t believe most voters will give a crap about the particular wording of a handbook on this matter. But I do believe his steadfast refusal to take responsibility has formed an impression that will not fade from public memory by 2015. Whatever rules he can cite, whatever technicalities he can assemble, this simply doesn’t pass the smell test of common sensibilities.

    The Rovian handbook will be of no use to him, this time.

    • Why is it that the media and the leaders of the opposition parties keep throwing around false allegations? Why is it that the media and the opposition parties claim that Gerstein had approved to pay the $32,000?

      Why does the media and the opposition parties not tell you about page 61 of the ITO report, which states:

      e. Mr.Wright stated that Senator Duffy had a liability of
      approximately $30,000 regarding residency, and an additional $12,000 in
      legal expenses. Mr.Wright suggested that the Conservative Fund pay this

      f.He(Senator Gerstein) stated that it is something he
      would consider. The reason that he wanted to consider it was because
      his role as Chair of the fund is specifically to bring revenue to the
      party. Their relationship with their donors and the integrity of the
      fund is of critical importance;

      g. He did not have difficulty
      with paying the legal fees because the fund as looked after legal funds
      for other party members in the past. He did have concerns about the
      optics of paying the $30,000 relating to expense claims;

      • Again: spam commenting that ought to be blocked, IMO.

        • Yes, block all posts that point out facts you find inconvenient. Why don’t they just make you the moderator so only Liberal talking points can be posted?

          • I ain’t a Liberal. That profile has been posting the same text multiple times on boards without obvious context. Go pound salt.

          • Problem is, Sean, you sound (read) like a typical Liberal.

          • I wasn’t aware that the Liberal party was so closely identified with an abhorrence of cut-and-paste spam comments. Or could you please quote the passages where I otherwise sound like a “TL”? thx

          • Liberals are always the ones trying to have people’s right to free speech suppressed when it doesn’t fit their preferred narrative.

          • Three things:

            a) I was simply objecting to cut-and-paste style spam that was being posted multiple times on the boards, with no direct relevance to the discussion. I was not speaking to the content or opinion.

            b) This is a private commenting community. Restrictions on these boards have nothing to do with “free speech”.

            c) While I agree that there is pervasive “left” inclination toward censorship as it relates to politically correct sensibilities, the “right” can harldly lay claim to libertarian ideals in this respect. For example, the conservative government has controlled the utterances of MPs more than any prior party holding power, and has furthermore acted to squelch the speech of government scientists and civil servants quite overtly.

          • Then what do you think of the points I make about page 61 of the ITO report?

          • You know very well your comment is nonsense, that’s why you’re dead silent here.

          • But you have still not read the contents of my post. Otherwise you would counter my argument and you have not done so.

          • Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

      • Verhoeven – Calandra of the comment boards

        • heck, it’s within the realm of possibility the last four words in your post are unnecessary!

  3. New rules ” Some ministers are more accountable than others ” And you thought Orwell wrote fiction and that Love will find a way !{Tax havens offshore }

  4. You know if harper had to take a play out of the Danny Williams play book and come clean, we wouldn’t be talking about this story today. Danny Williams had a corrupt spending scandal that went on some years back where he had to dump some MHAs over their love of the treasuries money. Danny stepped forward, told the whole truth and nothing but the truth and the next thing you know, NL, gave Danny, not only the highest rating in the polls in the history of NL. for his honesty, but gave him(Danny)another clear majority government.

    • May I reiterate, Danny also said he had nothing to do with the scandal, which was true and he also had the gonads to come clean.

    • Harper has told the truth. It’s just that the left-wing media wanted to hear a different “truth”.

      Harper did exactly what he should have done when he found out about these indiscretions. He demanded the money be paid back, and when they fought it, they were kicked out of the caucus and the senate.

      So we have a situation where everybody who did wrong has been banished and taxpayers have been repaid. What more can the guy do to satisfy the media mob?

      • Nice try

        • Care to point out what I said isn’t true?

          • Done

          • Why bother; it’s like pouring a good wine into a manky old boot?

          • hello Rick, can you hear me? hello, helloo, anyone home hellooo…

          • Two words: “Bruce” “Carson” – we’ve been down this road with Harper before. At first he blames the underlings. He says he didn’t know. If only he’d known the fraud artist/jailbird would never have set foot in the PMO, Steve would have seen to that. Then, when those lies fall apart, Harper says he knew a little bit about Carson’s criminal past – not the whole thing, no – but he thought the old swindler deserved a second chance and access to some incredibly valuable confidential information within the PMO. Scandal erupts, the summer recess bell rings, scandal evaporates under the hot summer sun until another peccadillo slips away.
            He’s playing out this PMO scandal just like the Carson scandal. Deny, deny, deny. Shift from lie to lie to lie. Throw a couple of people under the bus, rinse, repeat.
            There you go, Rick, that should hold you.

          • You didn’t even address what I’d said, you simply went on a deranged anti-Harper rant!

          • I wouldn’t go so far as to call it deranged, but agreed that trying to fit this latest attempt at demage control into an established pattern does nothing to refute your assertions. I’ve provided much more substantive refutations, luckily, and look forward to your response!

          • That’s ALL they’ve got and that’s why CPC kept both seats in the last by-election. Liberals score high in Toronto centre and Montreal but not much anywhere else. Guess where most lefty journos live?

          • Did you see the byelection results? Perhaps you missed the vote tally. I would suggest you maybe look them up. Then, you can cut and paste them, and try to explain what you just typed.

      • You’re conflating two issues: improper claiming of expenses by Duffy, et al, and senior PMO staff engaging in irregular – and possibly illegal – payments to influence the actions of a senator. The latter is where Harper has hung his hat on ignorance of such goings on, and has furthermore denied any and all accountability for his own staff’s actions. That money was “paid back” is not the issue. That the RCMP is strongly suspicious (with evidence) that the exchange of money was bribery of a pulbic official, is. (There’s the third issue of attempts to influence independent auditors and PMO interference with senate committees too: all of which goes way beyond expense claims).

        • Okay, if it was a “bribe”, then what did Wright get from Duffy in exchange for said bribe? I’m not saying the optics aren’t terrible, but a bribe usually involves money in exchange for something. What did Wright get out of the deal?

          • Oh Rick, you’re making it too complicated for Sean.

          • Duffy was digging in his heels to fight repayment, and furthermore kept claiming he couldn’t afford to repay in any case. What the PMO gained by paying Duffy off was avoidance of a protracted public relations disaster. That he was possibly coached to create a false paper trail via using his line of credit makes the quid quo pro nature of the payoff all the more suspicious.

            Now, I know very well that you didn’t ask this question out of total naivite. Your question was bait for my answer, so that you could retort from the following list of defenses [I’ve gone ahead and refuted each to save you the time and effort :) ]

            1. Wright is just a heck of a generous guy. [which might ring true if a) the emails didn’t reflect how much he despised Duffy – if he was doing it to help the PM, then it’s a bribe, no? and b) the overtones of damage control that run throughout the correspondence we’ve seen to date – again, this was clearly not a “gift”without strings]

            2. Duffy has been anything but a friend of the PM since being paid off. How can it be called a bribe if the public relations disaster has unfolded nevertheless? [Duffy is quite possibly a self-serving a-hole – I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but I have heard that interpretation from several sources. That he failed to hold up his end of the deal does not negate that the deal was made in the first place]

            3. Wright was fired on the spot! [bullsh*t, and that has no bearing on events prior.]

            4. He’s not been charged, and the evidence isn’t conclusive. [absolutely, this needs to be heard out in a court of law. Also, there’s every chance that he won’t be charged. However, the emails clearly show a) PMO attempts to hush things down, and b) payment to Duffy. The onus is on Harper to explain at this point.]

          • It has been explained, but that is NOT what you want. Was it a bribe ? Not likely. And as you said (referring to Sean) Duffy,,, is…###hole.

            Harper demanded repayment, but he underestimated Duffy.
            Wright acted to get rid of Duffy. Then Wright should have demanded repayment from Duffy.

            If, yes if I were counselling Wright I would suggest that he seek retribution through the courts, (sue the b@stard)

          • By paying money to Duffy to “get rid of him,” as you argue, then Wright was BY DEFINITION bribing Duffy, no?

          • Sure, I suppose it’s possible that Duffy accepted a bribe, and then immediately went public with it. I mean, that’d be weapons-grade stupid, but it’s possible.

            I think it’s much more plausible that Wright realized that Duffy was going to have to repay the money, and didn’t have the money, and was having health issues, so he cut the check to make the whole matter easier on Duffy. You don’t have to like someone to be charitable, especially when you work together.

            You’d really believe that Duffy knowingly accepted a bribe, then immediately went public with the fact that he accepted a bribe? To what end? His hobby is rooting out government corruption, when he’s not busy bilking taxpayers for tens of thousands of dollars?

            Duffy has lied, manipulated, and generally been a complete a–hole since this whole thing started. I’d take Harper’s word over Duffy’s any day of the week.

          • Hey, if it was only Duffy’s word, I’d agree with you. But, there’s the problem of all those emails centred on damage control. There’s the problem of Wright never once in those emails referencing Duffy’s health problems (or other altruistic motivations). There’s the problem that Duffy is known loose cannon, and that his subsequent actions can’t be taken as evidence of Wright’s intent. There’s the problem of using Duffy-logic (accepting a bribe, then changing his mind) to bolster the PMO’s case (you can’t hold both ends of the Duffy stick). There’s the problem of a frigging ongoing RCMP investigation into all of this. If the patent and plausible explanation was so obvious, why are they pursuing it so doggedly? That’s a lot of problems, Rick. As for taking Harper’s word: why did he fire Wright if Duffy is the sole culprit? Why does he continually cite Duffy and Wright as the wrongdoers in QP? To me, Harper’s word is confirming that a bribe just might have occurred.

            EDIT: Also, why hasn’t Harper offered up the altruistic explanation for Wright’s payment? If it’s the truth, one would think he’d want to share such a touching tale, no?

          • Read the report including page 61.

          • We don’t know. Wright and Perrin do but they’re not talking – yet.

          • That IMO is the biggest question right now. I’ve seen a few in the media hint at it.

            The implication is that Duffy “has something” the PMO wants/wanted.

            Hypothetically this could include keeping quiet about some “dirt” on Harper. It would have to be some pretty nasty dirt for the PMO to pay $90k and take the risk it would be found out.

            Then again, Duffy hasn’t seem TOO shy about revealing dirty allegations so far. But he DOES seem to be holding back with some dirt for future use. He hasn’t gone full nuclear assault yet.

            All that said, Duffy was VERY good at bringing money into Con party coffers and looking good for them, which is a simpler explanation,

          • Duffy’s lost any shred of credibility he’s ever had. He’s defrauded taxpayers, and went to great lengths to avoid having to repay the money. The man can’t be trusted.

          • Who appointed that POS anyways?

            The buck stops where?

          • How much more responsibility can Harper take other than kicking the guy out? Were you demanding Jean Chretien resign for appointing Raymond Lavigne (a Liberal who’s sitting in JAIL btw and never repaid the money he stole)?

        • There are actually three scandals in play. The first is the Senate expenses scandal. The second is the PMO scandal. The third is the corruption of the Senate scandal. There might well be a fourth – obstruction of justice, but we’ll have to wait and see.

          • There may soon be a second Liberal senator under investigation for sexual harassment. Wonder what Justin will come up with. Perhaps another ladies night to convince the girls all is swell. ?

      • ” He demanded the money be paid back, and when they fought it, they were kicked out of the caucus and the senate.”
        If that’s all it was, we would have long since applauded or booed, as per our opinion on the action taken, and moved on. Notice how it’s only the Duffy / Wright bit – you know, where the PMO did things it ought not to have done – that people are focussing on? We weren’t pleased with Wallin, Brazeau or Harb, but if it weren’t for Duffy / Wright it would all be old news by now.
        (See Sean for more detailed explanation as to why this is so)

        • I like that strategy..

          .(See Sean for more detailed explanation as to why this is so)…

          Ii think it may save some time and be far less tedious then all or us answering Rick or FV.
          Do you think it ought to be shared a little it more though? I bags last today.

        • OK, I’ll bite…. why does the Duffy/Wright thing get you so enraged? Because taxpayers were reimbursed, leaving the previous “scandal” moot? Or is it because you wanted to see Duffy personally bankrupted while he was dealing with health issues, just because he’s a Conservative?

          • Because it’s against the law, at least according to the RCMP, and they made that law for a good reason I and many other people believe.

          • I believe the story that is being overlooked is that originally the expenses being scrutinized were expenses claimed by Duffy while he was carrying out fundraising for the conservative party. This is what the PMO office didnt want looked into too deeply and began to work against the auditors and tried to have the hole thing shut down before these expenses were looked into. This is when Duffy’s 90k became a problem that the PMO wanted to get rid of.

          • But even so, Wright paid back the money.

            And how much have Liberals paid out of their party funds to compensate their caucus members? I think Macleans is afraid to ask that question and that is ok with you. :))

          • Um, Rick? Could you explain why Harper is so enraged?

          • I don’t see Harper being “enraged”.

          • Why did he fire Wright and push for the expulsion of Duffy, then? I was just using your characterization of KeithBram’s language, which admittedly is not all that rage filled to me either.

          • Because Wright SHOULD have informed the PM that Wright paid Duffy with private money – keeping your boss informed.

            And Duffy should have paid for his own expenses, just like any other ethical person would have done. That;s why Harper dismissed Wright and wanted Duffy suspended.

            But if you still do not understand, then I suggest you start at the beginning and ask if Gfreg Weston of the CBC can do another fabricated story so that the scandal can grow some more.

            Being lied to by the CBC (your own money). Priceless.!

          • You’re either deliberately trying to misdirect or you’re too obtuse to get it. I won’t waste any more time trying to explain it to an idiot or a party flack.

  5. “no winners, no losers…” wrong. very wrong. This event has lost my pride in Canada. My belief in honest government working at its best ability to help Canada. My hopes for our kids will have a good Canada to raise their kids in. My only hope is the RCMP. And considering the days of my youth, that is an extraordinary strange hope indeed.

  6. Well, he did promise a new era of accountability. What I think he meant was an era of “new” accountability.

  7. “Not so, anymore, it seems. The Tories changed the guidelines in 2011,
    and Harper’s no longer responsible for the indiscretions of those who
    work, or worked, for him.”

    There’s no rationale given in the GM piece as to why the rule change, which does rather encourage cynical speculation. Was there any given at the time i wonder? On the face of it it is an appalling move for any govt, particularly one that claims accountability as its watchword.

  8. …no losers? How about 35 million Canadians (minus 1).

    • The taxpayers have been reimbursed.

  9. Like Rob Ford likes to say… “you have to ask the right questions…”

    • “Justin Trudeau, what do you think of waiting one month before coming out with the Liberal senator Colin Kenny sexual harassment story>”

      ‘Oh”, says Justin “I am very proud of senator Kenny and how I handled it!”

      And the media says: “Good boy, Justin, good boy. So positive you are, such an inspiration to us all!”

      And so forth.

  10. When Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy had finalized their deal. Wright says to Duffy he must get the PM’s OK. He comes back to Duffy in a couple of hours to say “it’s a go”. Pretty obvious Stephen Harper OK’s the deal and it’s in Horton’s notes that were released. Wake up people.

  11. How can you say that Harper is dodging responsibility for Nigel Wright’s actions? Harper doesn’t need to be in the know on everything, but when it became clear what happened behind his back, he fired Wright. That’s exactly how the chain of command should work (unless somebody has changed the rules recently). The only thing Harper can be faulted for is hiring/appointing less-than-perfect people.

    • I’ll bite. His staff was trying to influence an independent audit, senate committees, and arranged to pay 90k to a sitting senator. Are you suggesting all of this is too minor for the greatest micro-managing PM in history to know about?

      Harper stood by Wright for four days when the story came to light. Why?

      EDIT: Finally: if the Prime Minister of our country cannot handle the tasks of appointing competent senators and hiring law abiding staff from a population of 30 million, why on earth should we trust him with other duties? Or is he not accountable for the folks he hires and appoints?

    • If that’s all he can be faulted for, why on earth won’t he answer the questions he’s asked, clear the air, and move along? This is damaging his government, badly, and if there’s nothing to hide, why hide anything at all? Really strange communications strategy.

    • Then why was Wright’s departure labelled a resignation initially then as the scandal unfolded and more details came to light. Harper all of sudden remembered he fired Wright?

    • Why hasn’t Wright called a press conference to announce his profound shame in having painted Harper into this mess when the PM is entirely blameless? Why hasn’t Wright come forward to stop this witch hunt?
      If he is such an honourable guy, why doesn’t he simply call a national press conference and take questions and clear the PM once and for all?

      • Good question, but why are you asking me?!

  12. “No winners, no losers”. You’re not following the same events as me I guess. There are plenty of losers. Taxpayers first and foremost. The conservative party has lost credibility, the prime minister has lost the confidence of many voters. Three Senators have been suspended and all other senators have been tarnished by association. Nigel Wright has lost his job. Deloitte has lost some credibility. PMO staff look like buffoons and clowns as per the emails.

    Winners: Liberal party, the media, Mulcair,

    • With a few more pieces of information…it just might be enough to force a ministerial resignation…so what do we make of the minister’s response to yet again postpone gas emission controls on the oil and gas sector?

    • 1) Taxpayers were fully reimbursed. That’s what got Duffy and Wright into trouble.
      2) Mac Harb is a Liberal who was forced to retire because he was the worst offender of all the senators.
      3) Deloitte hasn’t lost any credibility.
      4) The media look like idiots chasing a story that isn’t there.

      But yes, Mulcair probably is the “winner” in all of this.

  13. You Canadians are making big deal out of just 90k. We let our president’s daughters buy millions of dollars worth castles all over the world.

  14. Let’s agree that Harper’s style of leadership is severely put into question. The Duffy Affair augments this by a large margin. Until either Wright or Duffy’s court cases come into the forefront it might be best to move on; not forget…but definitely move on to other important issues that we face in this country.

  15. If we started an exorcism at the house of commons would they all disappear in a ball of sulfur?

  16. to have a laugh at the expense of MP for Oak Ridges-Markham, Parliamentary Secretary to the PM, and general FOS Windbag Paul Calandra!