Good to go from the PM: The Harper era's decadent phase

Paul Wells on Nigel Wright, Mike Duffy and the RCMP

Adrian Wyld/CP

As soon as question period was over and the Prime Minister of Canada was done announcing, to roars of approval from his MPs, that the RCMP had certified his ignorance of potentially criminal goings-on in his own office, reporters spilled into the House of Commons foyer, where PMO staff were busy taping a sign onto a podium. PROTECTING CANADA’S CHILDREN/ PROTEGER NOS ENFANTS, it said. Peter MacKay, who in July was switched out of the National Defence portfolio and popped into Justice like a battery being transferred from one TV remote to the next, and apparently with precisely as much influence on the course of events in the nation, was here to stand up against cyberbullying.

The minister made his announcement, and while he was talking, reporters were handed copies of the bill, and as they leafed through it they found “regulations around terrorism, organized crime, tracking vehicles, warrant authorizations,” as Alex Boutilier of the Toronto Star tweeted from the scene. So, uh, what does any of this have to do with cyberbullying? A couple of pesky reporters asked the minister that question, and he spun on his heels and made an exit.

It never changes. The government announces it is PROTECTING CANADA’S CHILDREN when it is really also MESSING WITH THE OPPOSITION’S HEAD and IGNORING LEGITIMATE QUESTIONS about WHAT THE HELL IT THINKS IT’S DOING. I am glum about this sort of behaviour today, because the RCMP has finally announced that it has reason to believe Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy were infringing the Criminal Code when the latter cashed the former’s $90,000 money order.

The RCMP memo—a summary of the case the investigating officer has built so far, and a request for court orders to obtain further evidence — also suggests that the Senate of Canada is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the PMO; That Irving Gerstein, who has denied ever agreeing to repay Mike Duffy’s housing expenses out of Conservative party funds, offered to repay Mike Duffy’s housing expenses out of Conservative party funds until he decided the bill was too salty; that one of the PMO’s pet Senators kept tabs on the conducting of a supposedly independent audit into Duffy’s affairs; and that a PCO official who loyally exercised his duty to challenge all of this was shut down by the PM’s political crony crew.

My favourite email, trivial in content but redolent in tone, is from Marjory LeBreton to Nigel Wright in March. She offers a self-serving account of a chat she had with Duffy. “I said ‘Mike you have just got to trust us on this and please don’t [go] crashing around invoking Nigel’s name or that of the PMO’”, she writes. “Just so you know. Marjory.”

It’s perfectly lovely. The Government’s Senate leader writes to the PMO to tell the Chief of Staff that she has admonished the sinking Sen. Duffy not to “invoke” the Chief of Staff’s name, because of course nobody must think the PMO is involved, because of course the PMO is involved.

“Just so you know. Marjory.”

Cpl. Greg Horton of the RCMP seems a diligent sort, who has already gathered a hefty stack of evidence and is going after more. So the theatre this week in the House of Commons suddenly seems less significant than it was up until today, because Cpl. Horton seems intent on taking this case to a court of law.

We now have a bit of a race on our hands. Will the Wright-Duffy case land in court before the government’s case in the trial of Michael Sona collapses?

Sona is charged with violating the Elections Act in relation to misleading robocalls in the 2011 federal election campaign in Guelph. A half-dozen Conservative staffers have testified against him. Some were selected by Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, who sat in while they were interviewed. Problem: Michael Sona was on vacation when he is said to have been bragging about his role in the robocalls.

The party’s handpicked witnesses, in the presence of the party’s lawyer, reminisce in perfect formation and their testimony doesn’t seem to stand up to the facts. That’s the kind of “oopsie” that gets a judge’s attention.

Stephen Harper’s defence in the Commons on the Wright-Duffy business was that he did not know about Wright’s decision to pay Duffy with a personal cheque. My reading of the RCMP memo is consistent with that. But it was Harper’s office. The Senate he has denied influencing was marching to his orders. He followed the process personally and closely right up to the moment Wright decided to treat Duffy’s expenses as, it now appears, Wright always treated his own: as something to be settled out of Wright’s own pocket. That contrast between Harper’s close eye on the matter before Wright pulled out his chequebook and his beatific innocence after is one of many things that will eventually be explained — whether the PM feels like explaining it today or not.

Mr. Justice John Gomery concluded that Jean Chrétien did not know what was going on during the sponsorship scandal. It did not stop the scandal from destroying the government of Chrétien’s successor. Will Wright/Duffy get into court before the date supposedly set by law for the next federal election, in October 2015? Probably. If the election date really is set.