We have watched American democracy at close hand for many years and we believe few governments are institutionally so susceptible to dictatorship as this one. – Gerald Johnson
Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve. – George Bernard Shaw
Frank A. Pelaschuk
When the Mike Duffy story first broke out regarding the questionable expense claims by the senator, with leaks of the whitewashed Deloitte report ordered by Senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen of the Senate’s internal economy committee, with t Duffy’s televised claim of repaying what he felt he did not owe because everyone knew “that the Old Duff, the Duff they’ve known and trusted, would never do anything wrong. I would never knowingly fiddle anything”, with the declaration by Marjory LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate that the Duffy matter was closed once he’d repaid the false expense claims, with the discovery that it was Nigel Wright who had in fact paid off the debt and not Duffy, with Stephen Harper, that mean-spirited control freak, claiming he and none of his staff other than Nigel Wright, knew of the deal made with Duffy, most observers, particularly in the media, might have been forgiven for voicing scepticism with declarations that something was rotten in the PMO and it wasn’t just the cooked up deal between Duffy and Wright. It smelled; it stretched credulity to believe Harper did not know. But he’s the leader of your country and though you feel in your cynic’s heart of hearts all is not as he claims you want to give him the benefit of doubt and take him at his word and do so for two and a half years: he didn’t know.
But not all in the media and the real world were or are persuaded by Harper’s claims to ignorance in that particular matter, probably not good enough, compliant enough, to be really good Canadians (if you’re not for us, you’re against us), too much like those “radical” environmentalist foreign stooges or those lefties working at CBC always trying to trip up Harper and the Conservatives. No wonder they’re so loathed by the Harper Conservatives.
So both sides worked, the Harper gang at avoiding and ignoring the media and the media not buying the Harper line, still worrying the bone in the belief stories were still to be told and secrets exposed and that Harper and those vile bodies in his circle in the PMO and the Conservative party knew more than they were letting on.
ONE TRIAL BEGINS, ANOTHER RESUMES
With the adjournment of the first stage of the Duffy trial June 18 without inflicting too much damage, Harper and gang likely heaved a huge sigh of relief. He had extended the war in Iraq against ISIS, a vote winner for some, introduced the income-splitting plan and was loudly touting the childcare benefits raises that those with children finally began to collect on July1st with sizable retroactive cheques. Doubtless Harper was feeling confident; the worse was likely over as far as the Duffy matter was concerned and he, Harper, was still standing, hardly bruised, his credibility seemingly intact. Perhaps feeling somewhat emboldened, he stood before cameras on August 2nd and called what will prove to be for taxpayers the longest, most expensive election in Canada’s history.
Ten days later, the Duffy trial resumed and it would be with a star from the PMO, Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff.
Now Harper gave as reason for calling the longest campaign in Canadian history his desire for all parties to foot the bill for their own campaigns. That was sure to please his supporters, those who believe (or want to believe) the myth that he is fiscally wise with our money, those same supporters who can be bought with shiny trinkets and cheap promises (to be fulfilled at a later date). The thing is, he simply wasn’t telling the truth. Changes to the Elections Act, now popularly referred to as the Unfair Elections Act, allows parties to not only spend more, but to recover more from the taxpayers. In the past, spending costs were fixed. Now, for every additional day over 37 days the election goes, the parties can spend an extra 1/37th of the limit. For all campaign costs, including the extra 1/37th per day, the taxpayer is on the hook for 50%! So, when Stephen Harper suggests he was sparing taxpayers and saving them money, he lied. As with many of his decisions, as with military planes and helicopters, this election will cost taxpayers much, much more than he would have us believe. According to the National Post (July 20, 2015), “Although per-vote subsidies have been eliminated, the rebates that parties and local campaigns receive will mean the taxpayer could be on the hook for up to $53 million per party…this on top of the estimated $300 million it costs to run the election itself” Joan Bryden outlines some of the costs to taxpayers. Tax credits for donations are “75 per cent on the first $400, 50 per cent on the next $350 and 33.3 percent on the next $500.” She also points out that for each day added over the 37 days allows each party to spend an extra $675,000 for its national campaign and an extra $2700 a day for each candidate. That is a lot more money being spent but also a lot more money the taxpayer is being forced to reimburse when parties can claim 50 per cent and candidates 60 per cent (Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, July 28, 2015 http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/longer-federal-election-campaign-would-cost-taxpayers-millions-more-1.3171793).
The Conservatives are by far the richest party in Canada raising about $20 million in 2014. There is nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong in calling an early election so that parties, the Conservatives in particular, can pilfer from the public purse to spend more and recover more. The early election clearly benefits the richest party. It also allows that party the added advantage of bankrupting the poorer opposition parties. The real pilfering of public coffers by Conservatives, however, began long before the election was called when they employed taxpayer-funded ads masquerading as informational ads to promote the Harper government brand as strong, patriotic supporters of the military and the party of family values, tax cuts, and sound, fiscal management. Well, that’s their myth. The manoeuvrings, such as promoting their pre-election budget this year, has cost taxpayers $13.5 million (CBC, Aug. 3, 2015)! Yes, indeed, Harper and the Conservatives certainly know how to handle their money wisely. They just use ours to pay their bills and enrich their coffers.
But if Harper suffers in justifying the long campaign, he suffers even more when it comes to an accounting of what he knew and what others in his office knew about the shoddy Duffy/Wright affair. The emails released during the first days when the Duffy trial resumed and the testimony of Nigel Wright under cross-examination by Duffy’s lawyer show Harper’s version is at variance with the revelations of his one-time close and most trusted advisors at the time the Duffy story broke. While Wright loyally maintains Harper knew, “in broad terms only that I assisted Harper” and not of the cheque affair, it is clear that more knew than Harper claimed.
The doubters, those who would not, could not, simply take Harper at his word about what he did or did not know had been on to something after all. After almost ten years, Harper’s word holds little value, too carefully crafted and full of “outs” about matters that, if not illegal, certainly appear ethically iffy and difficult to be taken seriously.
When the Duffy trial resumed Aug. 12th, so did Stephen Harper’s, in a real sense, with Nigel Wright on the stand and with the release of copious emails. As Harper went on the hustings across the nation promising tax dollars on new programs, harsher punishment, more tax cuts and with the re-introduction of the home renovations program he had scrapped in 2010 but never quite able to get his message out as, each day, he was confronted with the same questions by reporters and responded with the same tired, worn, unconvincing line, that he knew nothing of the deal between Wright and Duffy and that, when he learned of it, had made all public and fired Wright.
You may want to believe him, after all he’s the leader of your country, but you just can’t. He’s lied too many times.
But some do believe him, willingly suspending their incredulity or simply too partisan, too ignorant if not downright stupid, to fret about ethics, honesty, and moral compasses; it’s about shared values having nothing to do with those touchy-feely things: What do I get out of it? is the real issue for such as these.
So, when Harper is constantly peppered by questions his supporters don’t like and believe hostile, it is hardly surprising there is push back from the partisans siting behind Harper as he attempts to offer his message of the day: “Stick to the topic”. We have that image of that foul-mouthed moron, later identified as Earl Cowan, shouting at Laurie Graham of CTV calling her a “lying piece of shit” and accusing her of cheating more on her income tax claims than Duffy. When CBC’s Hannah Thibedeau stepped in, he turned on her as well, an inarticulate bully who had clearly refined imbecility to its lowest and most base level. He didn’t care about the fact the two were doing their jobs or about the legitimacy of their questions. What values he shared in the way of policy with the Conservatives could not be easily discerned except the willingness to bully, intimidate and blame others as well as demonstrating a willingness to shoot the messengers and spew poisonous vitriol as only the truly vicious and ignorant can. So there is one, at least, who seems indifferent to the questions raised by the Duffy Affair, indifferent that Harper refuses to be forthcoming though the evidence of Nigel Wright and then Benjamin Perrin, once Harper’s personal lawyer and lawyer for the PMO, during the Duffy trial appears to cast doubt on his claims of ignorance in the matter and that no one else in the PMO was involved. But the buffoon who attacked Graham and Thibedeau is of a type easily identifiable simply by the Rob Ford button he was sporting: that says all one needs to know about him. Or almost all: he is the same individual, according to some reports who, when Olivia Chow ran for mayor of Toronto shouted she should go back to China. The face had seemed familiar to me, a reminder of something unpleasant. When I learned who he was, I wasn’t surprised: As much as one might wish to, it’s difficult to completely erase the memory of these types.
While this behaviour from Tory supporters is entertaining and likely damaging even if only minimally as far as Harper’s core base of supporters go, it is the greater matter of Harper, of his competency and apparent lack of a moral compass that should be of more concern to Canadians. Cowan, and such as he are unimportant in the grand scheme.
HARPER’S CHANGING TALL TAIL
For some, it may have been puzzling Harper would call the election knowing full well that the Mike Duffy trial with all its risks was about to resume a few days later. One plausible explanation was Harper and gang believed most of the bad news has already been made public and the Nigel Wright testimony would likely not be damaging and what damage there was could be weathered and likely forgotten by October 19th under an onslaught of Conservative ads and large promises and constant reminders that the world is full of terror and that Canada has been specifically targeted by jihadist barbarians.
If that is the hope, Harper and gang must be sorely disappointed, the campaign not going quite as Harper and gang would have it unfold, the questions tough and on the Duffy trial testimony, What did Harper know and who else knew? followed invariably by his stock answer: he knew nothing; the deal was only between Duffy and Wright; once he learned of it, he acted decisively making it public and firing his chief of staff. But that is his story today. The fact is it was the media, Bob Fife of CTV, who broke the story in 2013. At that time, Harper defended Wright. A few days later he had accepted Wright’s resignation for acting with the best of motives, then, May 28, Harper was saying, “By his own admission, Mr. Wright made a very serious error. For that he has accepted sole responsibility and has agreed to resign.” You can already see Harper distancing himself from his own man and then the break became overt and real, when, on October 28, 2013, Harper says, “I had a chief of staff who made an inappropriate payment to Mr. Duffy – he was dismissed”. So we have Harper defending his chief of staff, then Wright resigning and then Harper firing him. The only true thing is Harper accepts no responsibility nor does he admit to knowledge of the Duffy/Wright debacle as it was unfolding. He is robotic in his response, one who believes if he sticks to and repeats a story often enough, the rest of the world will eventually tire and accept what he says: his story, whichever version it is that day is the right one; if the world points out that his story has changed, no matter, it’s the world that has got it wrong. It seems to work with some of those who support him.
But for anyone paying attention to the trial, even if with half a mind, if becomes evident that Harper is not credible. Who to believe and which version? To believe Harper, one would have to believe others in the PMO did not know. Testimony and emails refute that. If you believe Harper you will likely believe some of Wright’s story. But you will also have to believe the emails are not what they seem and that Benjamin Perrin, a lawyer, as is Wright, is either mistaken or has lied on the stand about who in Harper’s office was in the know. If Harper, this man who is so careful and so controlling did not know, why not? Did all those many staff members in the PMO who knew of the deal, the attempts to rewrite the Deloitte audit on Duffy, who worked on scenarios to be used by Duffy to explain his, Duffy’s, payback of the money (as the public was supposed to believe), really conspire to lie to Harper?
So now it’s out there, Harper’s story unravelling though there has yet to be any concrete evidence of him knowing about the deal. He says he didn’t and you’re forced to take him at his word.
Still, the questions are persistent and the answers troubling. Why was Duffy insistent that he was innocent, had done no wrong? Well, clearly from the evidence, it was Harper who certified that he was okay, that he could claim to be the resident from PEI even though he hadn’t lived in PEI for decades.
Wright’s testimony and the emails, while not placing Harper directly in the loop regarding the cheque affair, certainly show PMO staff desperately working hard to clean up the mess, to keep it from becoming public, and “to make Duffy whole”. Again why? Well, again from the emails, we learn that the PMO was concerned that if Duffy was to fail to meet the residency requirements, other senators might also fail and it was the Conservative senators that the Harper gang wanted to protect at all costs. The emails in particular reveal interference by Wright in the Senate’s sub-committee audit report of Duffy by Deloitte. It was not just Duffy who was coached regarding repayment, the whitewashed Deloitte report, and how the news was to be made public. The Leader for the Government in the Senate, Marjory LeBreton was coached as well: Duffy had repaid the money and the matter was now closed. Only it wasn’t, of course; before long the story unravelled. Duffy had not repaid the money himself. It was Wright who had cut the cheque. Duffy was primed on how to respond to questions regarding residency but also on what to say regarding the claims with several script options carefully crafted to demonstrate “‘There has been an historical lack of clarity in the rules and forms. I had thought I was doing the right thing, but I was mistaken. I will be repaying…etc.'” (email excerpt from Wright to Chris Woodcock, Andrew MacDougall, Stephen Lecce, Patrick Rogers, Benjamin Perrin, Feb. 20, 2013 3:27 PM). Clearly, there was nothing innocent going on here.
In another email (Feb. 21, 2013, 8.18 PM), Wright wrote, “Mike is going to do this (although I don’t consider that final, final until I see an email from his lawyer….I have to weigh on Sen. Tkachuk, and I will call Sen. S-O (Carolyn Stewart-Olsen) too, to insist that Mike’s ‘may have made a mistake’ will be accept as sufficient to call of (off?) Deloitte.” Lest anyone still have doubt that none of this was for public eyes or ears, the following might dissuade him. “I would like to understand who if anyone Sen. Duffy ever intends to inform about point 3 (or, for that matter, the entire arrangement). I assume that I know the answer, but I would like it to be explicit. For its part, the Party will not inform anyone” (email excerpt, Wright, Feb. 22, 2013, 11:39 AM).
And there is this: “One issue: she (Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne) wanted it all in writing. I explained that was not happening. We aren’t selling a car or settling a lawsuit here. She seemed to get it eventually” (email excerpt, Benjamin Perrin, Feb. 22, 2013 12:50 PM).
These are very small examples of what was going on in the PMO and none of it is pleasant.
While Nigel Wright was on the stand, a name that cropped up again and again was that of Ray Novak, at that time deputy chief of staff and considered by insiders a close personal friend of Harper’s, almost a son. Of the major players during the Duffy scandal, he is the only member of the PMO still working for Harper, now as chief of staff and senior campaign director. According to Perrin, Novak certainly knew about the cheque deal having been informed by email from Wright saying he was paying Duffy’s debt and being present during a conference call to Duffy’s lawyer when Wright informed Perrin Duffy would be repaying the money “because it’s coming out of my pocket” (excerpt of a statement by Benjamin Perrin to RCMP Sgt. Greg Horton, Feb. 20, 2014). This contradicts Wright’s testimony that Novak, while popping in and out of the room, wasn’t present when the matter of the cheque was raised and challenges Harper’s claim that no one in the PMO knew about the deal. Too, in his testimony while on the stand, Perrin says he was blind-sided by the news of this deal. He was the lawyer for the PMO and yet was clearly out of the loop in this, he claims. Had he known of it, he says, he would have gone to Harper and resigned if corrective steps were not taken.
If Perrin is correct in recalling Novak being present when Wright brought up the matter of the cheque, then Novak had lied to the RCMP when he denied knowing Wright had paid off Duffy’s debt. Too, there was the matter of the email in which Wright wrote to both Perrin and Novak saying he would send a cheque on Monday following the conference.
It stretches one’s credulity to believe Harper did not know. Especially when Conservative campaign spokesman and long-time Conservative loyalist Kory Teneycke made the observation that Ray Novak did not know of the Duffy/Wright deal because, if he had, it was “unfathomable” to believe he would not notify Harper. Was Novak in the room? Did he not read his email from his boss? That question could easily be answered if Novak set aside a few minutes from his duties as chief of staff and campaign manager to clarify publicly what he did or did not know. Unfortunately, these days Novak appears to have much in common with Big Foot: sighted but not to be found or heard. Which suggests that there is more than a bit of truth to Perrin’s testimony.
If Novak knew about the deal, and it seems he did, and if we accept the word of one of Harper’s closest advisors, Kory Teneycke, who should know, it is extremely unlikely that Harper could not know of the manoeuvrings of his staff. So why is Novak still working for Harper and the Conservatives?
If the PMO staff lied to him, why did they? Was it to offer Harper the shield of “plausible deniability”? Possibly, but unlikely. Did Harper, knowing something was up and suspecting he might not like it, make it known to his staff he did not want to know? If that’s the case, while it may save him, it still does not look good for Harper. That kind of avoidance behaviour, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know” is merely legalese, weaselly wriggle room: I knew something was up but I didn’t want to know and they didn’t tell me and because they didn’t tell me, I can’t say I know as fact what I suspected and neither can you. If that’s how it went, what kind of leader does that make Harper? Not a very good or honest one, I suggest, and certainly not one to be trusted. Perhaps the same kind of leader who, according to an email by Wright, held the rather loosey-goosey view “that ownership of property equates to residency” (Nigel Wright, February 19 2013, to Benjamin Perrin, Ray Novak, Patrick Rogers, Joanne McNamara, Chris Woodcock, Myles Atwood). A nuanced interpretation, but laughable and one unlikely to be accepted by most folks. But that assurance was enough for Duffy, it seems. Benjamin Perrin, however, testified to being taken “aback” by this broad interpretation and had attempted to dissuade Harper from using it because the position was legally and practically untenable. Harper ignored that advice. No surprise there, either. Remember, Harper and his gang have a history of knowing more about everything than all the experts in the world: they know more than climatologists about climate change, more than environmentalists about the effects of toxins on the environment, more than legal scholars about jurisprudence, more than Supreme Court Justices about matters brought before the Court, and, it appears, more than the PMO lawyer at the time. And yet Harper, this most learned of men, did not know a thing about the Duffy/Wright deal.
IF I’M A LIAR, PROVE IT
That seems to be Harper’s line as he hits the campaign trail refusing to answer questions and trying to get his message across which appears to be based on the theology that anyone can be bought, anyone made fearful. When not attempting to buy our votes with shiny promises to be fulfilled down the road, he is attempting to move us with fear reminding us daily of those slathering jihadist barbarians who have singled out Canada and are coming for us pounding at our doors.
It is fear Harper and gang want us to experience and fear by which they would have us live. And, because he is one of extreme arrogance, without shame or integrity, who holds little regard for the opinion of others, he wants us to imagine, and to be frightened by the prospect, a world without himself as prime minister. The NDP and the Liberal economic policies will lead to the disaster that has befallen Greece. Greece, for Christ sake! Desperation on the fly. It is through our fear that he seeks to find his salvation October 19th.
Stephen Harper is no visionary. He is not even a leader. He is not one to be admired but rather loathed and dismissed tossed into the trashcan of history. A leader does not bully. A leader does not set out to frighten those whom he represents. Nor does he change electoral laws to rig the vote in his favour. Harper, with the assist of odious Pierre Poilievre has done precisely that. A leader does not threaten to his critics, he does not lie to his citizens nor does he deceive them and he does not smear and target those who oppose him. A leader is not afraid to admit to being wrong nor is he afraid to face his shortcomings and to seek, and accept, wise counsel from others, even his enemies. A leader does not take credit rightly belonging to others nor does he blame others for his mistakes and for his bad decisions. A leader does not refuse to answer questions, does not hide behind legalese, does not adhere to a policy or a line that he knows is wrong, false and harmful. A leader does not work to meet the goals of corporate interests by sacrificing the well-being and interests of workers, especially those holding minimum wage jobs. Nor does a leader conspire with corporations to suppress wages of low-income earners by importing cheap, compliant foreign workers to replace Canadian workers. A leader does not hide behind his staff nor does he continue to support those who have abused their positions. Harper has done that. Ray Novak still works for him. Marjory LeBreton who, as Leader for the Government in the Senate, oversaw the whitewashing of the Mike Duffy audit, still works on the Conservative election campaign. Why aren’t they gone? A leader does not alter facts and rewrite history to paint a rosy picture of himself. He does not change laws to increase his power and undermine democratic principles. He does not abuse his majority nor does he wield it as a club to beat his opponents into submission.
Harper is no leader because he has done all the things a leader should not do.
By any measure but his own, Stephen Harper is no one to be admired. He has led a government that is corrupt, amoral and unrelentingly dismissive of all other voices, especially those of dissent in opposition to him. Contrary to the Conservative myth, as a fiscal manager, he is a total bust, ignoring manufacturing for the oil tar sands and for having overseen eight deficits in a row taking responsibility for none by blaming external global forces. Yet, not too long, he was taking credit while the world was falling apart, wagging his fingers admonishing other world leaders of their failings and reminding them he was the model to emulate.
The Conservative party, Stephen Harper and his gang, all of them, some more so than other, have corrupted our electoral process and set out to rig the vote. They have worked towards the systematic erosion of our democracy and have passed legislation that threaten human rights and that could brand one a terrorist simply for acts of civil disobedience that may temporarily disrupt the economy. They have brought disrepute to Canada with their relentless dismissal of the UN, with their targeting of refugees, with their assault against the courts, and with their fixation on trade at any cost with brutal dictatorships with abysmal records of human rights violations.
The Conservative party, Stephen Harper and his gang, all of them, have become corrupted by the allure of power. They govern for the interests of corporations and work to dismantle the things we cherish as Canadians. Our nation is falling apart; the signs are everywhere and can be seen everywhere in our failing infrastructure and disappearing jobs. Under Harper, we have become a wasteland led by lizards. He has proven himself reckless with facts, indifferent to ethics, absent of integrity and too many are still eager to suspend their incredulity and support him. He cannot be believed or trusted. He is the god who has failed because he began with lies and broken promises. Over the years of misrule, abuse and error, he threatens to turn what’s left of our democracy into a grotesquery, a Corporatocracy that may only allow memories of a day when humans matter more than profit.
By then it will be too late. There will be no memory.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine.
They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. – Benjamin Franklin