OTTAWA — The ground beneath Stephen Harper’s feet grew noticeably hotter Tuesday as the federal campaign trail was stoked by incendiary new Mike Duffy trial revelations.
Duffy’s fraud trial heard evidence linking the prime minister’s long-time right hand man, current chief of staff Ray Novak, to the earliest days of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that cost former chief of staff Nigel Wright his job — and led to Duffy being charged criminally.
It was an account that flew in the face of the narrative put forth by the Harper campaign last week — that Novak was not aware of the Duffy scheming — setting the stage for more tough questions for the prime minister on Wednesday.
Harper’s supporters reached their boiling point earlier Tuesday at an event in Toronto, heckling reporters who tried to ask about Duffy at the prime minister’s press conference and later hurling profanity-laced insults at them as they departed.
But NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, campaigning on pastoral Vancouver Island on the need to prevent forest fires, poured a rhetorical can of gasoline on the Duffy scandal.
He expounded on the letter that his party’s ethics critic sent to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson on Tuesday asking whether Wright ought to face criminal charges and whether a dozen Conservative staffers ought to be investigated in light of what’s emerged from Duffy’s trial.
“Furthermore, Mr. Wright’s testimony has painted a picture of numerous senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office working together to try and cover up this scandal,” wrote MP Charlie Angus.
“Evidence at the trial points to over a dozen people — including the Prime Minister’s current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak — involved in a plan to make a secret payment to a sitting senator, have him make intentionally misleading statements to the public, and interfere with an independent audit.”
On that point, Mulcair added: “We think that Canadians have the right to know whether they broke the law.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took a swipe at Harper over the Duffy trial, when asked in Sudbury, Ont. about Harper’s latest tough-on-crime announcement earlier in the morning — to do to do away with parole for first-degree murder that includes sexual assault, kidnapping, terrorism, or killing a police or corrections officer.
“The fact is Mr. Harper is once again trying to deflect, using the politics of fear, from what’s going on in the Ottawa courtroom and also from the abject failure of his economic plan over the last 10 years.”
Earlier in Toronto, Harper was pressed by reporters three times to answer questions about Duffy.
Harper stuck to his main line, that Duffy and Wright were to blame for the whole expenses affair — despite emails at the trial indicating others in his office discussed the matter.
Harper was asked why he continued to tell the House of Commons that Wright was the only staffer in his office to know about the $90,000 payment that Wright gave Duffy to cover his expenses.
“I’ve answered according to the information I had,” Harper replied.
“As you know, Mr. Wright made some subsequent statements and so I of course corrected the record. And that was over two years ago.”
Earlier, Harper had to intervene to allow another reporter to ask a question about the Duffy case after one heckler yelled: “Ask questions on the topic at hand.”
As reporters were leaving, another attendee aimed an expletive at one journalist and accused another of cheating on her taxes.
Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke apologized for the incident, calling the behaviour unacceptable.
Mulcair evoked his previous prosecutorial role in the Commons when he asked pointed, fact-based questions of the prime minister about what he knew about the Wright payment.
“I got to question Stephen Harper day in and day out, and I knew what he was telling us didn’t hold water. But now Canadians know that as well,” Mulcair said.
He called on voters to pass judgment on Harper when they go to the polls on Oct. 19.
“It might be Mr. Wright who’s on the witness stand, but this is Stephen Harper’s trial.”