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THE SENATE, THE WHITEWASH, AVARICE AND THE SILENCE OF STEPHEN HARPER

“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.” – Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass

Frank A. Pelaschuk

Can it get much crazier than this?

When Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate and Stephen Harper had declared the senate economy committee investigation of Mike Duffy closed after Duffy declared his decision to “voluntarily” refund the Senate for money obtained through fraudulent expense claims, they doubtless believed the matter behind them. The report was released and Conservatives across the land loudly and at every opportunity blithely sang the praises of Duffy saying he had done the “honourable thing”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the whole story, as we now know.

Nothing was said of Duffy’s refusal to co-operate with the committee once the $90,000 to which he was not entitled was repaid. Nor was the public informed that the report on Mike Duffy had been “cleaned” up, the harshest criticisms removed by two Conservative senators on the Senate internal economy committee, David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, because Duffy, we all believed, had repaid what was owed. Tkachuk admits to seeking advice from the Prime Minister’s Office but denies he was ordered to clean Duffy’s report, which the public saw. Neither Liberal Sen. Mac Harb nor Harper Conservative appointee now Independent, Sen. Patrick Brazeau, also under investigation by the same committee, were accorded similar consideration: Sen. LeBreton loudly and publicly threatened them with garnishment.

Then, of course, came the revelation that it had been Nigel Wright, Harper’s chief of staff, and not Mike Duffy, who repaid the money. Immediately, Conservatives across the land loudly and at every opportunity blithely sang the praises of Wright for doing “the exceptionally honourable thing” for taxpayers. Those words, later echoed by other members of Harper’s execrable crew, “exceptionally honourable thing”, were Pierre Poilievre’s. Further, Conservatives were, to use Andrew Coyne’s phrase, “shocked, simply shocked”, that Duffy had misled them.

There were questions, of course, but no answers from Stephen Harper. Duffy was to be re-investigated by the same secretive Conservative-dominated economy committee that had closed the file on him in the first place. Liberal Sen. James Cowan, Leader of the Opposition, called for a public hearing and was accused by Sen. David Tkachuk of being a “publicity hound.” The heat was on, this was too close to the PMO, it smelled bad; even so, Wright still had Harper’s full confidence. He had done the “honourable thing” for the best of motives. So we were repeatedly told.

But Harper wasn’t talking even though a scandalized nation was eager for answers. Why had Duffy’s file been closed once the $90,000 was repaid? Why had he quit co-operating with the committee? Why had the two Conservative senators cleaned up the report? Why was Duffy being re-investigated? How much faith can Canadians entrust to this committee and its re-audit of Duffy? Why did Wright make the gift? Why was that gift not made public? Why did they want Canadians to believe that it was Duffy who had made the payment? What negotiations were involved? Where were the documents? Were there documents? Had lawyers been involved? Why did Wright resign? How much did Stephen Harper know? When did he know if he did?

Of course, when Wright resigned on May 19, a true trooper, he took full responsibility for what had transpired declaring Harper knew nothing of the $90,000 gifted cheque! Credible? Hardly. Not with this control freak of a prime minister.

Still, Harper wasn’t talking except to announce that he would be addressing his MPs and senators on the following Tuesday, May 21. Media was also invited to attend. Was Harper making a new start towards accountability and transparency?

But what happened on that morning was extremely telling. To all intents and purposes, Harper, apart from voicing his displeasure with what had happened, had addressed none of the issues Canadians wanted addressed.

When he walked into the packed room Tuesday, Conservative members had loudly and enthusiastically greeted Harper. Observers may have been confused. Was this a government in crisis? Watching the televised event and the enthusiasm of Harper’s supporters awakened memories of a video I had seen on television of Saddam Hussein from years ago. He was addressing a room filled with party faithful all loudly applauding him in a sustained ovation as he calmly surveyed the seated audience. Eventually, after a brief speech, he began to call out names, evidently of those he no longer trusted. Those called rose and quickly strode out of the chamber stone-faced and doubtless aware of the executioners waiting for them. This was repeated several times and, with each name called, the applause grew louder and more sustained the expressions of those applauding more desperate and frantic as one person after another rose and left the room for their inevitable fate. Clearly those remaining in the audience were desperately hoping Hussein would notice the enthusiasm and sincerity of their love for him and that he would spare them. For most, it worked.

Observing Harper and those Conservatives reminded me of that horrifying clip. It was as if, by exhibiting such enthusiastic devotion to their leader, those Conservatives hoped to stave off the crisis that was threatening to overwhelm and, perhaps, destroy them. Maybe they were desperately hoping that Harper would offer something reassuring that would take away all their troubles or, with a wave of his hands, undo the past. If so, they must have been grievously disappointed. Harper said absolutely nothing of value to resolve the matter of the Senate crisis.

True, he did state that he was not happy with the conduct he had witnessed. And he did restate his position of 2005 saying, “Anyone…anyone, who wants to use public office for their own benefit, should make other plans – or better yet – leave this room.” Nice words then but had anyone listened? Today the words are as hollow as the man who uttered them.

Earlier in his brief statement, and it was brief, he said: “Our Federal Accountability Act, the toughest accountability legislation in the history of this country forever changed the way business is done in Ottawa.”

Well, not really. Think F-35 jets, Bev Oda and padded expense accounts, ship designs that cost three times what it takes to build. And remember Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry, who faced allegations of political interference in a contract for renovations on Parliament Hill, who gave Rahim Jaffer special access to his office, who spent a weekend with lobbyists, who was investigated for involvement in relocation of the Employment Insurance centre in his riding and who rejigged the formula for structures for private companies so that they did not have to go through an environmental assessment review and finally, whose aid charges taxpayers $11,415 for a trip to Las Vegas (repaid when exposed). Looks like the same old same old business as usual.

But that’s Harper for you; every allegation of ethical and questionable accounting breaches glossed over if one of Harper’s favoured few. And, if needed, there’s always a staffer to throw under a bus.

Stephen Harper went on to say, “We have: Strengthened the powers of the Auditor General. Toughened the office of the Ethics Commissioner, reformed political financing.” Well, yes and no. When has the present ethics commissioner taken any meaningful action on anything recently?

Harper went on to say that his government had, “Dramatically tightened lobbying rules. And beefed up auditing and accountability within government departments.” Huh? That must have been news to Kevin Page.

Finally, Harper added the howler: “Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the world.” Said from the mouth of the leader of one of the most secretive, petty and punitive governments Canada has ever endured.

And then, to demonstrate how open and transparent he and his government is, Harper refused to take any questions from reporters he had invited to this gong show.

Most accountable and transparent? Canadians know better. They want better. They ain’t getting it. Even as I write this, Conservative MP Eve Adams, parliamentary secretary to Minister of Veteran’s affairs and another talking air-filled pointy-head made the same claim as Harper: “Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the world.” Well, we know how this is going.

Harper’s failure in this matter is dismal and absolute. He failed to take advantage of that showing to answer questions regarding Duffy, what he knew of Wright’s gifting of $90,000, and whether such behaviour was meant as a cover-up to stave off questions. With such enthusiastic conservative support, one would think Harper would have faced the issue of scandal, corruption, fraud, avarice, and the senate head on. He did not. Instead, he talked about being sidelined by “distractions” and, as above, offered self-congratulatory mythmaking bombast so far from reality those attending must have believed they had entered some fantastic parallel universe.

Conceivably, though I doubt it, Harper has forgotten those scientists and public servants muzzled with threatened job loss if they spoke to the media. And he might have forgotten about the prolonged smear campaign he, van Loan, Baird, Flaherty and the rest of the thugs waged against ex-Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page who disputed the figures offered by Harper and Mackay regarding the F-35s, the false figures with which Harper ran and won his campaign. But I doubt he forgot that as well. And Harper might even have forgotten how Page was stonewalled by almost every government ministry refusing to hand over documents he had requested so that he could do a proper accounting of public expenditures. Again, I doubt that.

Immediately after that meeting, Harper left for trade talks in Peru. It was only there, on foreign soil that he finally responded to two questions regarding the Senate scandal in which he expressed his frustration, reiterated his anger, and said how sorry he was. But the expression of sorrow rang false because lacking evidence of true remorse which might have been revealed by acknowledging guilt, admitting that he had dropped the ball, that the Senate must be investigated and the rules overhauled, if not done away with, with the assist of all parties. Then, mea culpa barely expressed, he promptly, and typically, threw under the bus, his once trusted advisor, Nigel Wright who, only a few days before, had his full confidence. He denied knowledge of the $90,000 cheque, the negotiation, and the meeting between Wright and Duffy. Wright had acted alone and without Harper’s approval. That really does stretch one’s credulity and I, for one, am not buying it. With this government, almost no one accepts full responsibility for his actions. Why should he or she? There are plenty of sacrificial lambs available and just as many buses.

On May 22, came news that the RCMP had requested documents regarding Duffy’s file. The request was dated May 16 and yet Marjory LeBreton did not see fit to inform the public.

As if all this wasn’t mad enough, we were rewarded with this absurdity by Conservative MP Joan Crockett who tweeted, “Our government has the highest ethical standards demonstrated by 3 resignations: 2 from Senate caucus & the PM chief of staff.”

Some people just don’t get it. Crockett, clearly not a profound thinker, evidently believes that forced resignations for unethical behaviour are testament and proof of high, ethical standards! Crockett’s statement, characteristic of Harperite slugs, is not only incredibly stupid, it also reveals a disturbing line of reasoning that those unfamiliar with this odd, scandal-driven storyline might conclude written by Lewis Carroll: the number of resignations determines the measure of integrity. Interesting. I had always believed the measure of ethics included ethical behaviour as well as honesty, integrity, openness, accountability, remorse, and a sense of shame. For Conservatives, especially Harper and his crew, those words are foreign concepts useful when necessary but mostly a hindrance.

The Senate needs more than a few changes and they do not include new rules or an elected body. While I do believe there are some in the Senate who are honest, hardworking and deserving, they are not making the news. I am with the NDP: the Senate must be abolished.

I also think, on reflection that Crockett might be on to something when she suggests resignations are proof of a government’s ethical standards. Using her criterion, let’s have a real demonstration of the highest ethical standards by Harper and his gang who have, thus far, eschewed the same.

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About Frank A. Pelaschuk

I am the author of two works of fiction reviewed by Brian Porter, author of Lonely Together and The Atlas Proxies. He called the novel, Serpent in the Garden, "A convincing, seductive tale of coming home to the enemy". Of Ambiguities of Love in Six Stories, he wrote, “Moving, intelligent, and thoughtful storytelling." Both works are available on Amazon as soft cover or e-book where the full reviews also appear.

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