Duffy vs. Harper: Who's telling the truth? - Macleans.ca

Duffy vs. Harper: Who’s telling the truth?

Duffy’s cards are on the table. The PM must respond.


Sean Kilpatrick/CP

“$90,000 seems just a little insignificant. But we can always trust media to lose perspective. can we not?” —Derek Patterson, of Burlington, Ont., in a letter to the National Post

True believers don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sen. Mike Duffy claimed a primary residence in the wrong province. Who cares? He claimed thousands of dollars in improper expenses. Who cares? What matters is the Senator never intended to mislead anybody, and the Senate’s rules are confusing, and there are more important things.

Jim McDonald thinks so. The letter writer from Dundas, Ont., told the National Post the government’s opposition has it all wrong.

“Politicians of all stripes could have taken some well-deserved pride in the fact that Canada had just signed the biggest free trade deal in its history. What did the opposition insist on doing?” he asked. “Why, rolling in the pig manure over the pitiful, minuscule Mike Duffy scandal, and making themselves look even more pathetic in the eyes of the public, if that is possible to do.”

Fair enough, Jim. Free trade with Europe is a glorious achievement, indeed. Trade deals worth billions of dollars and thousands of jobs and happy friendships with trading nations leave profound legacies. Duffy’s saga could fade into an historical footnote before too long.

But this whole Duffy imbroglio isn’t just about Duffy. Now, it’s about the prime minister. It’s also about ethics, and telling the truth.

Yesterday, Duffy rose in the Senate chamber to defend himself. His speech lasted just under 16 minutes. Of all the things he said, and all the things reported, an exchange with the Prime Minister stands out.

I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules. But the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth,” Duffy claimed. He then paraphrased Stephen Harper. “‘It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.'”

The Prime Minister has stayed on script. He didn’t know Nigel Wright, his former chief of staff, cut Duffy a cheque for $90,000. He didn’t know of anyone else in his office who knew about that cheque. He didn’t know much of anything, except that he wanted Duffy to repay improperly claimed expenses. Fine.

But now Duffy’s claiming that Stephen Harper doesn’t care about the truth. Every apologist for a politician has a breaking point. Letter writers who complain about puny cheques for $90,000 have their breaking points. There may be room for lunacy within the House of Commons, where truth is so often relative, but Prime Ministers should generally care about the truth.

Duffy may be leading his political universe on a wild-goose chase. His saga will play itself out. But now the Prime Minister has to do a job no politician relishes: He has to prove to a skeptical public and hopeful supporters that he’s on the side of truth.


What’s above the fold

The Globe and Mail Sen. Mike Duffy says the Prime Minister told him to pay back expenses.
National Post Duffy claimed Stephen Harper made that demand directly.
Toronto Star Duffy claimed he followed all Senate rules.
Ottawa Citizen Duffy claimed the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in the truth, only perception.
CBC News Duffy claimed several Senators forced him to pay back expenses.
CTV News Duffy claimed the PM wanted to satisfy the Conservative base.
National Newswatch The PM’s Office admitted Harper made the demand in a February meeting.

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