Will Mike Duffy answer the questions Stephen Harper has avoided?

Julian Wolfe
September 24th, 2014

There’s the Stephen Harper that will crusade against corruption. And then, there’s the Stephen Harper who covers up his own. 

In 2006, Harper’s Conservatives latched onto power on the basis they would clean up our government which had suffered from the sponsorship scandal. Nearly a decade later, his government now faces the same inevitable defeat: in shame and in scandal.

The poll numbers don’t lie: not only is Justin Trudeau’s Liberals’ resurgence a factor of a will for renewal, it is a response to public fatigue of Stephen Harper’s stewardship. While only 1 Liberal was charged for the sponsorship scandal that left them in the opposition for 10 years, the Conservatives now face a more structured and internal scandal which spans to a much more powerful impact. Harper’s pesky Duffy Affair, unlike the Sponsorship Scandal affects the top of the hierarchy, the PMO and Senate leadership. Canadian’s faith in the Conservatives is lost and the court of public opinion has clearly shown that it’s come to a verdict.

Regardless, events from Mike Duffy’s trial from April 7 to May 12 and June 1 to 19 will have a profound impact on the political scene – notably on whether Stephen Harper respects his fixed election date law which he broke in 2008 to miss his aim for a majority government. Most speculation would pit calling an election as early as March or April would be Harper’s last chance at making a dent in Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s growing popularity. Others speculate he might try to delay the election to a point when the Duffy Affair has once again settled.

Regardless when an election is called, however, the polls demonstrate the margin of a Liberal win is the only thing that will vary – as long as the Liberals don’t propose something the public completely objects to which scatters their steals back to the Conservatives and NDP.

So the question is: will Duffy answer the questions Harper refused to answer? Considering his case is sounding like a man who has been thrown under the bus – and it wouldn’t be the first time the Harper government threw one of their own under the bus – it certainly is possible. This would mean details that we didn’t know before may surface. Why else would Harper’s right-hand man freely hand a $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy? It seems the cheque and breach of trust in the PMO may only be the tip of the iceberg.

As it stands, this case is serious enough that it could try to drag Harper himself to the stand (something Duffy’s lawyer is publicly pushing for) and if he isn’t directly implicated it is almost certain many of his insiders will be. Among them will be big names from the Conservative government’s hierarchy including:

  • Former Chief of Staff and right-hand man to Harper himself, Nigel Wright, whom is known for the $90,000 cheque
  • Former Conservative Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton,
  • Former Chairman of the Senate Internal Economy Committee David Tkachuk who allegedly had the initial Deloitte audit into Duffy’s expense claims whitewashed with the help of…
  • Former Press Secretary to Harper and more recently a member of the Senate Internal Economy Committee Carolyn Stewart Olsen

Clearly if the Prime Minister had no involvement in the scandal, he would be a lot more direct in his answers to question and wouldn’t have kicked the media out of his caucus meeting after he opened the door for one of the first times in his mandate to make a rosy speech to try to settle the ongoing media crisis – which to this day has left Conservative polling numbers low enough Harper could be moving out of 24 Sussex Drive in the next election.

There are many questions that remain unanswered and the secretive nature of Harper’s actions on the file have only raised suspicions on his involvement, consent and judgement.

  1. Why did Nigel Wright give Mike Duffy a $90,000 cheque?
  2. Did Stephen Harper know about the backroom deals his Chief of Staff was making at the time?
  3. Did Stephen Harper authorize the payment?
  4. Did this payment come from federal coffers?
  5. Was the Conservative Party really ready to pay Duffy’s expense overcharges? Why?
  6. What is the government hiding under what is an already damaging Duffy Affair rouse?

Given Harper was the man of accountability in 2006, this scandal has all but completely destroyed his credibility and his reluctance to answer these questions honestly demonstrates that he indeed has something to hide because if all the above questions were false, he would have no problem proving his innocence. Also worth noting is how the Conservatives absolutely refused to call a Public Inquiry on this matter like the Liberals did sponsorship and with Conservatives interfering in RCMP practices and communications, one can only imagine that findings may be skewed – it’s not like they didn’t try to whitewash a damaging Deloitte audit before.

“There’s going to be a new code on Parliament Hill: bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison. If you behave unethically or dishonestly then do not expect a reward from this Prime Minister of Canada.”

The trial will be heard by a single judge. Due to the public gravity of the case, finding a full objective jury would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne is in for a tough case that is already starting as a fight considering the “not guilty” plea to 31 charges including bribery, breach of trust and fraud, just to name a few.

“We trust that the evidence will show Senator Duffy is innocent of these charges,” Bayne said.

Harper’s opponents are already waiting for blood, just as Harper keenly acted on in 2006 when then-Prime Minister Paul Martin called the Gomery inquiry that destroyed 13 years of Liberal governance.

“This is going to be damning evidence for the Conservative Party, for Mr. Harper personally,” NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said. “This is what brings governments down.”

Liberal MP Sean Casey speculates the trial will make a spring election highly unlikely – one must wonder if Christmas is on the table.

“It’s too tight,” Casey said. “I thought it would be too obvious to schedule the election around the trial and this takes it off the table.”

The Duffy Affair will effectively take the spotlight off the economy, a topic that has helped the Conservatives in the polls until late. On the mind of many Canadians will likely be the unanswered questions around the affair and it’s certain an opposition witnessing weakness after nearly a decade of Conservative will want to keep the questions and scandal on the headlines up to and including the date of an election that will inevitably be called by October 19, 2015.

“Canadians want to know how is it possible that a bunch of people very close to the prime minister could cook up a bribe and walk away scot-free while the person receiving the bribe is up on charges,” said NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus.

“We’ve seen the prime minister has already broken his promise on election dates once, but I think it would be a huge mistake for the prime minister to outrun Duffy this time,” Angus said.

Conservative Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement, meanwhile tried to defuse the opposition’s charges.

“I think Mr. Harper and our government will be judged on other things,” he said.

“I think people have already made up their minds on Mr. Duffy,” added Clement. “They think he’s a bad guy, he’s done some bad things. It’s sad because he had such a good reputation going in. But that’s the reality of it.”

“We’ve taken a very clear position that we don’t accept that these activities have a place in the Canadian Senate or the Canadian Parliament so I think that’s the end of the matter,” Clement said. “It’s not our baggage, it’s his baggage.”

Regardless how the Conservatives want to spin this, for a party that likes to discuss judgement, appointing the people whom allowed the scandal to happen definitely illustrate Harper’s judgement clearly – to a point that their attacks on the opposition have only added fuel to the fire that rages among fed up Canadians who deserve better.

That leaves the question with you: How do you think Duffy’s trial will play on the upcoming election?

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On Monday, the longest campaign in modern history will come to a close and if current polls are any indication, Canada may be seeing a change in government after 9 years of Conservative rule under the leadership of Stephen Harper. Accountability was his calling card in 2006 and today, accountability may very well be one of the defining reasons for his departure.

In its length, in its cost and in its debate schedule, this election is unusual. The first and possibly only real debate of the campaign ended and here are the highlights of what happened.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper left Rideau Hall this morning with Governor General David Johnston’s approval to drop the writ and Canadians are now officially headed to the polls on October 19. For the first time since fixed election date legislation was brought in by the Conservative government, a fixed election date has been followed.

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