Most ignorance is invincible ignorance: we don’t know because we don’t want to know. – Aldous Huxley
And here, poor fool, with all my lore/I stand no wiser than before. – Johann W. von Goethe
Frank A. Pelaschuk
Last Thursday, October 24, Harper, in a rare appearance in the House in over 160 days, gave his strongest performance in months. It took place two days after Mike Duffy lobbed a few grenades at Harper while speaking in the Senate defending himself in hopes of avoiding a two-year suspension without pay. Harper was firm, pugnacious, and oh, so, so, self-congratulatory in his responses to questions by the opposition wanting to know if he had, indeed, ordered Mike Duffy to repay his expenses as Duffy had claimed. “Darn right I told him he should repay his expenses,” replied Harper. Solid, no nonsense, unequivocal. But no answer to the underlying question prompted by Duffy’s remarks: Had he been in the same room when the Duffy/Wright deal was made?
Nevertheless, members of his caucus that day must have felt a lifting of their hearts, a soaring in their spirits. Harper was back. In fact, so enthused were the members, and so forthright and eager Harper, that all leaped to their feet many times in Question Period, Harper responding forcefully and enthusiastically if not always satisfactorily. No matter, his Conservative gang clearly loved it all each appearing to out-leap and out-applaud the others as if, by such ardent public display of support, loyalty and love, hoping to garner public support or, more cynically, to forestall being thrown under the bus by Dear Leader for lack of enthusiasm.
Without doubt, they felt good, you could see it writ on their faces. But that glorious sensation was illusory, fleeting, another chimera of many in a regime of smoke, mirrors and thunderous white noise.
The following day, Harper and his party were exactly where they were before the spring/summer break, floundering, evading, fingerpointing and responding with scripted non-answers. It has been a shameful display by a majority governing party. The extended break had done nothing to improve matters, the Senate scandal had not gone away; it was cheap, loud, performance art and gong show. Is this how a leader of a Democratic nation behaves? Is this how Conservative Democracy works? Talking points, scripted bobbleheads, repeated phrases, lifelike dolls fingerpointing, mouths flapping and saying – well, saying nothing but yet, clearly, somehow, signifying the adoption of a new tack: Harper’s Conservatives had suddenly suffered a fervid, dizzying conversion; they were high, high on ethics and ethical behaviour. Villainous wrongdoers would be severely punished and Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Nigel Wright were, without doubt, villainous wrongdoers. Never mind that Wright was gone; he was the chief villain, the architect of all this mess; it was all his fault. Yeah, right.
While I have little to no sympathy for Nigel Wright or the three senators, I have even less for Harper and his gang of thugs who appointed the three to the Senate, apparently less for their merits as contributors to society than for what they could bring to the Conservative Party. Brazeau’s inclusion was likely the result of the potent symbolism he offered: young, intelligent, brash – and First Nations member. Duffy’s and Wallin’s inclusion was, without doubt, a result of their recognisability as respected and trusted members of the media and the promised ability to raise funds as Conservative shills. They were loved (and loved being loved) because they offered something that could be used, traded upon: the native gave them a certain cachet and the fundraisers? Well, they raised a lot of money, didn’t they? Yet, for the three, one can almost work up sympathy. Almost. When suddenly no longer loved, troublesome liabilities now, they were not only thrown under that massive, brutal Tory blue bus, they were to be made an example for all others: cross Harper, this, too, could be your fate. For these three, there would be the public damning, shaming and punishment; a Harper sanctioned lynch mob. Still, there would be a hint of decorum, a suggestion of fair play; the three were allowed to speak in their own defence in the Red Chamber and they did so, Duffy twice. Had cameras been allowed, the scene would almost certainly have closely resembled the Stalinist show trials between 1936 and 1938. Yes, yes, Harper and gang were going for the jugular, no more playing nice; these three would pay, and severely, and Conservatives, when done, could finally wash their hands of them for good while loudly proclaiming their virtue as defenders of ethics in politics. They were the good guys, white hats and tall in the saddle once again. That was the scenario they likely imagined. The party faithful would be happy and the soft supporters? Well, put on a good show, they’ll swallow anything.
The problem is: Would people really buy this? Is Harper and gang right? Is the world filled with simpletons? Well, forty per cent at one time. Enough to elect this gang of vicious thugs.
Unfortunately, for Harper and gang, when Duffy spoke October 22, Conservatives in the Senate and the House must have felt as if they’d been mugged. Regardless of the merits of Duffy’s defence, the sad spectacle says a lot about the character of this government. It is desperately wanting and severely challenged in matters of ethics and integrity. That’s been obvious to many, but this speech was just another nail. Canadians should be worried by now and do something; the foxes are in the henhouse and have been for some time.
In 2006, Harper announced that he would reform the Senate. Well, we saw how that worked out. Over half the Senators are Harper patronage appointees. During his latest foray in the Senate, Duffy posed the rhetorical question: Are we independent Senators or PMO puppets? He knows the answer to that. We all do. The days of a truly independent body had passed some time before the virulently partisan Harper entered the scene, but it is Harper who drove the final killing stake through its heart. The days of a truly independent Senate, if they ever were, were now well and truly dead.
WHICH TRUTH? WHOSE TRUTH?
Do you remember how it went? Did you care then?
When Duffy announced to the world that he and his wife had decided to repay the housing claims to which he was not entitled, Harper and Poilievre and all the rest of the thugs were loud and effusive in their praise of him. He had done the “honourable thing”, they had said. When that proved false, when we learned that it had been Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright who had paid off Duffy’s debts with a cheque, Harper, Poilievre and the rest of the Conservative thugs were loud and effusive in their praise of Wright. He had done the right, honourable thing, they said, Pierre Poilievre even going so far as to declare Wright had done the “exceptionally honourable thing”! Duffy was suddenly toast. The man who had shone in the Conservative glow, who basked in the limelight and hammed it up as “hard hitting” journalist with puffball questions for Harper during faux “townhall meetings”, was suddenly, and sadly, pariah. Oh, that must have hurt.
When Harper was asked in the House what he knew of the deal, he claimed to know nothing and went so far as to state that no one else in the PMO knew of the deal. It was a matter between Duffy and Wright and no one else, he said. He also said there were no documents. Months later, when the RCMP revealed that there had been others in the know, Irving Gerstein, who controlled party funds and was apparently prepared to help Duffy out when he believed the debt to be $32, 000, David van Hemmen, Nigel Wright’s executive assistant, Benjamin Perrin, a lawyer who once worked in the PMO, and Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in the PMO, Harper played dodge ball evading questions in the House, claiming Wright had accepted responsibility for the matter and had done the honourable thing: he had resigned. As for documents, well, they were there and one involved another cheque, which, until Duffy’s revelations October 28, no one knew about except for the parties involved. Still, Harper, until last week, had maintained the deal a private matter between Duffy and Wright. But that wasn’t true, it never was. The question is, did Harper know? Evidently not, if we are to believe him.
When Brazeau and Duffy, October 22, and Wallin, October 23, defended themselves in the Senate, it was clear from Duffy’s impassioned defence that he was placing Harper in the know, Harper had been there when the deal was made, “just the three of us” (Duffy, Wright & Harper), and that he, Harper, had ordered Duffy to repay the money and take the deal. Harper’s vigorous and proud, “Darn right I told him he should repay the expenses” “sort of” supports what Duffy says without actually placing Harper in the room.
But, if Harper wasn’t there, and he says he wasn’t, and, as we now know four others knew, were there others? In June, Harper said no one else knew. But last week he did allow that “a few” others had known about the deal. That was a small change but extremely significant. It had gone from no one to a few knowing. So, had Harper lied at the beginning? Or did he really not know? Harper and his bobblehead parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, were now back to the scripted lines in the House, “Nigel Wright had taken full responsibility and blah, blah, blah.” That was Harper. For Calandra, the script went something like this, “The prime minister has answered the question. Nigel Wright had taken full responsibility and blah, blah, blah.” Oh, how wearisome the script.
On October 28, Mike Duffy took the opportunity to address the Senate again as his judges, jury and executioners prepared to debate his penalty, if any. This time, there was even more astounding news from Duffy even as the Senate Conservative sought to lessen the damage they had inflicted on themselves with this move to suspend the three. Arthur Hamilton, long-time lawyer for the Conservative party, a hardball troubleshooter often called to handle high profile incendiary events involving Conservatives (the Helena Guergis debacle for one, the robocalls scandal for another), had written a $13, 560 cheque to Duffy’s lawyer paying off Duffy’s fees with Conservative funds. There is documented evidence of the cheque. So, how many people did know? What constitutes “a few” as acknowledged by Harper? Some figures go as high as 13. If so, going from none to thirteen appears to be more than a minor discrepancy. Was Harper lying, mistaken, or just wilfully out of the loop on this, as well?
Too, Conservatives had previously denied that they had a secret Conservative fund run from the PMO for discretionary purposes. That was in the past. But that changed with Duffy’s speech in the Senate and with Harper’s recent admission that it did, in fact, exist. Had he lied then or simply been mistaken?
It was from this discretionary fund that Duffy’s lawyer was paid. When questioned about why the Conservative party would pay the fees for Duffy’s lawyer, especially if Duffy had breached the rules, pocketing money to which he was not entitled, Harper’s response was that it was standard practice for the Conservative party to help members from time-to-time. Which begs the question: If Duffy had defrauded taxpayers with illegal claims as Harper keeps on saying, why bail him out? Harper’s story makes little sense. He keeps shifting ground. At what point was Harper, if ever, telling the truth? Was it then or is it today?
In some ways, Nigel Wright seems to be a genuine victim of all this. This was a party loyalist, remember, a front rank soldier. Once word came out that he had written a cheque to pay Duffy’s debt, it was evident he was finished even though, two days later, a spokesman had said Harper still held confidence in him. There was no talk of resignation. On May 19, Wright announced his resignation from the PMO, which Harper had “reluctantly accepted”. Once again, Wright had proven himself a good soldier and, once again he was lavishly praised for doing the right, honourable thing.
Today, however, things are much different for the loyalist and one-time confidant of Harper. Looking back, his vision must be of a deceitful and bleak landscape: the only loyalty was his own.
In an appearance on a radio talk show, October 28th, Harper did another turnabout. Wright had not resigned as we had been led to believe. He had been fired! If Wright had been badly wounded when ruthlessly thrown under the bus, Harper, standing in the House the next day, made certain that he was dead meat as far as Conservatives and the public were concerned. In what must be the final indignity to this one-time much admired member of the PMO, Harper and his thugs left little doubt what Wright meant to them. Wright, said Harper, had been “The one person responsible for the deception.” Had they surrounded him and plunged daggers into his body in a public forum, it could not have been more brutal or more painful. Ruthless, shameless and appallingly cold.
What must Nigel Wright think of all this? What does he feel? What can those sitting around Harper think, what can they believe, who can they trust? Certainly they know that they are one misstep away from political and very public annihilation.
How is it possible that anyone can continue to place trust in this man who is leader of our nation? Petty, brutal, vindictive, evasive, deceitful, ready to sacrifice anyone, he is no leader I respect, let alone admire or trust. He and his party have governed in a manner that has been, time and again, revealed as the most ethically challenged in the history of Canada. It’s not all about money, folks. Mike Duffy says it has lost its moral compass, as if this were a recent thing. He is wrong. That happened long, long before this scandal broke out, probably on the very day Harper experienced the first real taste of power and succumbed to its corruptive allure.
Yes, yes, Harper is high on ethics – today. But even here, he appears rather easy on that score. Some stay, some go but these only when they become liabilities. We need simply remember Shelly Glover who the chief electoral officer of Elections Canada, Marc Mayrand, had recommended be suspended for refusing to file a full report of her 2011 campaign expenses. She finally agreed to do so only upon learning she was to be promoted with a cabinet position. And we have Christian Paradis, the lacklustre underperforming MP from Quebec who has been investigated more than once for ethical lapses with allegations of political interference and of providing favourable treatment to contractors seeking government business. He too holds Harper’s enduring confidence (at least until the next election) as well as a cabinet post. We have, as ugly as they come, vicious, oleaginous, union-busting Tony Clement, president of the Treasury Board, who, in 2010 during the G8 and G20 conferences set aside a slush fund of $50 million for his riding and whose department has apparently misplaced $3.1 billion. We have loudmouth, now silent, Dean Del Mastro, once Harper’s parliamentary secretary, facing charges relating to the 2008 election campaign. We have Bev Oda, who forged, or whose office staff had forged, a government document and was twice made to repay padded expense claims before being finally toppled by a $16 orange drink. We have Peter Penashue, declared by Harper to be the best ever Labrador MP, forced to resign for accepting corporate donations for his campaign. Best ever from Labrador? Clearly the voters didn’t agree with Harper when the by-election was held. We had Vic Toews who accused opponents to his online spying bill of “siding with pedophiles.” And we had Joe Oliver smearing environmentalists as “radicals” and impugning the reputation of a widely respected environmentalist who pointed to the risks of going ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline deal.
With Harper and gang, anything goes; the moral compass is rather fluid if it exists at all. If he likes you, or needs you, you are golden, in like Flint; if, however, you prove a liability, well, it’s under that brutal Conservative bus for you. Wright, Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau have merely joined Michael Sona, Helena Guergis, and all the other battered sacrificed. Clearly, working for Harper and the Conservatives is an occupational hazard.
Perhaps, in his own peculiar way, Harper has decided to set an example for public servants who have endured massive cutbacks and much maligning from the cretinous Clement. Harper has taken on the role of all three monkeys for himself: all hands clapped over eyes, ears and mouth and all at once.
Harper would have you believe he knew nothing. He would have you believe that everyone around him had conspired to deceive him. That makes him incredibly incompetent or incredibly stupid. Take your pick.
It is highly likely Nigel Wright can provide many of the answers. He knew Harper well and, after this, knows him better now. One wonders how much longer he is willing to play the good soldier. He owes Harper absolutely nothing now.
Is Stephen Harper a liar?
What do you think?
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine