The Wallin Affair: Stephen Harper’s Nightmare come to life?
Disgraced former Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin is on the hook for $121,348 in inappropriate travel expenses since her appointment in 2008. Despite already repaying nearly $38,000 prior to the total set in the Deloitte audit, the senate committee could ask for up to $20,978 more to be repaid. The controversy becomes evermore damning when the politics factor in, including the defense of Prime Minister Stephen Harper this spring.
The Duffy Affair took the first hit on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s integrity after lies, contradictions and terrible damage control plagued the PMO after former chief of staff Nigel Wright cut a $90,000 cheque to disgraced Senator Mike Duffy in exchange for silence.
The Wallin Affair takes a new step forward in the controversies surrounding the senate. Not only has Wallin inappropriately taken more tax money than Duffy, Harper himself defended her actions this spring.
“In terms of Senator Wallin, I have looked at the numbers,” Harper said at the time. “Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time.”
Wallin is the largest spender in the senate. From November 2011 to December 2012, her travel expenses were $369,593.62. Her “Other expenses,” used to denote travels outside of her province, Saskatchewan, totaled $163,216, almost $70,000 more than anyone else.
The largest spender in the senate, now having an audit of inappropriate travel expense claims under review by the RCMP, Harper dug himself a political grave before the scandal even got a chance to unfold. While the spring focused heavily on Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, Wallin too came under fire and the results of a senate investigation into her are in and have found what Harper would have known for months.
Starting in December 2012, Wallin’s “other” expenses had a sudden drop after the audit began. By the end of May, her average quarterly travel expenses dropped to $16,183 from $35,670 since November 2010. Was the drop in these controversial expenses related to the pending audit?
The Conservatives are in damage control. After shuffling their cabinet to see no real changes, it appears their agenda to brush their shoulders to the ongoing scandals will be unraveling as the summer and fall will be consumed with more of the devastating headlines that plagued the brand earlier this year. From Brazeau to Duffy and now Wallin, the repetitive pattern is appearing and is damaging at best.
Earlier this year, the Liberals elected a new leader, Justin Trudeau. The first thing the Conservatives did, on his first day as Liberal leader, was release an ad blitz to say Trudeau had poor judgement. In light of the recent train of scandals, Liberal Democratic Reform Critic Stephane Dion is pointing to Harper’s defense of Wallin as a sign of poor judgement.
“At first glance, the prime minister should have seen the red flags. It should have raised alarms. Without indeed knowing all the details at first glance, at broad review, he should have seen the problems,” Dion said.
“The pattern is repeating itself.”
But while the opposition hammers away at Conservative scandals, Tories are asking their base to change the channel in a desperate bid to save face. In light of the scandals, the Conservative campaign is sending robocalls, a transcript obtained by Yahoo! Canada, to their supporters to ask for money to help change the channel.
“Next month, the House gets back in session and we’re worried that the media is going to pick up where they left off and that was the Senate issue. And you know, we want to focus on a lot of other things that we’ve done well.
We’re doing a big media campaign. The economy is our number one focus. Our country’s economy is the strongest in the G-7. Our taxes are the lowest they’ve been in 15 years. We’ve overhauled our criminal justice and immigration [systems] in the last 2 year’s we’ve had our majority.
But it seems most of the media coverage remains pretty negative.
So by doing this we can get our message out to Canadians. We will also have a new Speech from the Throne which will lay out the direction of the government for the next two years, as well, heading into the next election.
And we’re just asking for your support to get that message out with a 75% tax credit.
…When we go back in September we know what we’re going to be facing. We’re really trying to change that channel and that’s why we’re doing the campaign at the same time to get our…new agenda.”
This ad isn’t the only approach the Conservatives have taken. Also note the timeline of reactions with the initial Duffy Affair. When it hit the headlines, the Conservatives praised Duffy for repaying the money as the honorable thing to do. When it turned out Wright paid for those expenses, the Conservatives dismissed the ordeal saying taxpayers don’t need to worry about something that’s repaid. As soon as Wright did something wrong, the Tories said the proper authorities would handle it and attempted to join the mob of angry Canadians to push the public focus onto reforming the senate.
The Conservative convention will take place this Halloween and we will watch how events unfold as Conservative supporters are just as angry as non-conservative supporters. While Harper tries to refocus his government, this fall will be a good test of his tenure. If enough Conservative supporters feel betrayed by his backtracking on accountability, his confidence levels could face a hit – one to watch.
Overall, the Wallin Affair may not yet include the serious PMO influence the Duffy Affair did, but this time Harper has to explain his defense of the indefensible. As the Wallin affair adds to controversy and a black mark to Harper’s Conservative brand, one will watch and see what happens. But coupled with a popular Liberal leader like Justin Trudeau, an effective NDP leader like Thomas Mulcair, and a repetitive pattern of deceit, lies and inappropriate use of taxpayer money, one can only wonder if Stephen Harper’s worst nightmare has come to life. Harper appointed the people causing the storm on his brand today and he will be the one to ultimately take the hit for the damage they have caused.
Is the Wallin Affair Harper’s worst nightmare? What do you think of Harper’s way of dealing with the scandals that just won’t go away?