Stephen Harper scolds his rivals and preaches disclosure - Macleans.ca

Stephen Harper scolds his rivals and preaches disclosure

‘Any information we have that is relevant we will reveal immediately’

by

Having had to stand 22 times the day before, the Prime Minister apparently arrived at Question Period this afternoon quite prepared. If not to table any relevant documents or answer each and every outstanding question, then at least to make sure that if the opposition leaders persisted in asking him questions he would have something negative to say about them in response.

Mr. Harper would though, perhaps in the interests of politeness, perhaps merely to pace himself, wait until his second response to commence criticizing.

Thomas Mulcair would begin this afternoon as he had yesterday afternoon, hands folded at the waist, looking directly at the seated Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister acknowledged the existence of the email in which Mike Duffy wrote that he stayed silent on the orders of the Prime Minister’s Office,” Thomas Mulcair began, perhaps attempting to read into this response from Mr. Harper. “Who in the Prime Minister’s Office has a copy of that email?”

Mr. Harper attempted here to establish distance.

“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “this is an email, I understand, of Mr. Duffy, a former Conservative senator.”

The New Democrats laughed.

“As we know well, the activities of Mr. Duffy are being looked into by the appropriate authorities,” Mr. Harper continued. “Of course, any and all information we have will be shared with those authorities.”

Mr. Mulcair stood again, hands folded at the waist, for his second query. “Mr. Speaker, has the RCMP contacted the Prime Minister’s Office to obtain that email or all other documents that it has in relation to this matter?”

Mr. Harper stood here and actually offered a direct answer. “Mr. Speaker,” he said, “to my knowledge we have had no such contact.”

But then here came the segue. “Of course that would be very different, I understand, than the leader of the NDP,” Mr. Harper now ventured, “who, after 17 years of apparently knowing about the activities of the mayor of Laval, who is now charged with various offences, did not reveal that information to the public and the police until very recently. Any information we have that is relevant we will reveal immediately.”

The Conservatives stood and cheered, apparently happy for the chance to feel superior to someone else in this regard.

This much is reference to the question of Thomas Mulcair and the envelope he was presented with in 1994. Whether the matter of the envelope and the matter of Nigel Wright could be said to be somehow comparable is likely a matter of debate, but apparently the Prime Minister sees at least a principle that should be upheld.

Mr. Mulcair stood, hands folded at the waist, and waited for the government side to settle. Who, he wondered en francais, had the Prime Minister assigned to manage the matter of questionable spending in the Senate? Mr. Harper claimed to not entirely understand the question. The New Democrats laughed.

Mr. Mulcair asked, again en francais, when the matter had first been discussed within cabinet. Mr. Harper began in French before switching to English. “While we are sworn not to discuss cabinet matters publicly,” the Prime Minister offered, “I can certainly say that these matters were not matters of public business at any point.”

Then another segue. “In fact, as we have said, this matter became aware to me on May 15,” Mr. Harper continued. “I immediately made that information public, which is very different than the leader of the NDP who withheld information on the wrongdoing of the mayor of Laval for 17 years.”

Once again the Conservatives stood and cheered.

Mr. Mulcair pressed on. Mr. Harper repeated his scolding. The Conservatives stood and cheered.

Justin Trudeau now took his turns, fussing over the apparent fact that Mr. Harper was unaware of Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy until the day after CTV had asked his office about a deal between the two men and Mr. Harper’s office had offered a statement in response to CTV’s queries. Mr. Harper insisted that “we have been very clear about what the facts are in the situation.”

And then another segue. “On the other hand, the leader of the Liberal Party should explain,” Mr. Harper ventured, “why he has known for weeks that a member of his caucus, a Liberal senator, is connected to an undisclosed offshore bank account worth $1.7 million, and he has chosen to take no action whatsoever.”

Conservatives stood and cheered.

This much is seemingly reference to the matter of Senator Pana Merchant and her husband. Mr. Harper did not specify what he thinks Mr. Trudeau should do about this, but if the example of Mike Duffy is any indication—questioned in a media report on December 2, formally found to have inappropriately claimed expenses on May 9, resigned from caucus on May 16—Mr. Trudeau might have some time yet to take action.

Mr. Mulcair returned to his feet for nine more questions. In seven responses Mr. Harper made reference to the events of 1994.

The NDP leader’s second last question pertained to the Prime Minister’s own efforts to understand the truth of the matter of Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Mulcair asked, “has the Prime Minister asked that all emails to and from Nigel Wright’s email account in the Prime Minister’s Office be examined to see if there is any reference whatsoever to the Mike Duffy affair, or to any and all documents concerning the Mike Duffy affair?”

Mr. Harper stood to offer a response. “Mr. Speaker, once again, we have put in place the appropriate authorities to investigate such matters when they arise,” he said. “We will obviously assist those authorities and we will ensure that anybody who has broken any rules or laws is held accountable.”

By a strict reading of human language and communication, this was not an answer.

Once again then, a segue. “We are doing so promptly,” Mr. Harper explained, “unlike the leader of the NDP who, in spite of the fact he knew about the inappropriate activities of the former mayor of Laval, and has now admitted it after having denied it in public repeatedly, refused to provide that information.”

If Mr. Mulcair erred in 1994 and thereafter, let him now be shamed by the remarkable example of this government and the individuals involved in this matter. There is no higher authority than the Parliament of Canada, the forum through which the public’s business is conducted, so let it all be aired here and soon. There should be no excuse now for anything short of full disclosure and explicit answers. What was the arrangement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy? Was Mike Duffy offered any kind of assurance of favourable treatment? Was Mike Duffy told to remain silent by anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office? Do any documents or correspondence exist that relate to the arrangement between Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright? Has the Prime Minister made any attempt to ascertain any of this?

There are two questions filed on the order paper, in the name of Mr. Trudeau, that pertain to this matter. Officially, the government has 45 days to respond, but given the Prime Minister’s deep concern for disclosure surely there can be no reason to wait that long—surely, at the very least, there must be answers to those questions before the House rises for the summer.

Two days ago, a proposal to study this matter at the ethics committee was apparently stymied. Surely that should be revisited. Surely, at the very least, Nigel Wright should be invited to sit and testify.

In his second response this afternoon, the Prime Minister was perfectly reassuring. “Any information we have that is relevant,” he said, “we will reveal immediately.”

Good. This is heartening. For whatever this unfortunate matter amounts to, it should be made clear as immediately as possible.

And perhaps once we have achieved perfect clarity as to whatever happened here, we will see how this principle might be applied to other matters.