“When I refer to the government as an elected dictatorship it’s not personal in any way to the Prime Minister nor to his party, it’s a reference to what’s happened, a creeping growth, an unhealthy growth of power in the Prime Minister’s Office—Elizabeth May, Leaders Debate
Less than one week after Elizabeth May made that damning statement Nigel Wright, Harper’s former Chief-of-Staff, proved her right.
Conservative senator Mike Duffy is facing 31 criminal charges, including three for fraud, breach of trust and bribery in connection with his acceptance of a $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief-of-staff, to repay improperly claimed housing expenses.
Wright, a Harvard educated lawyer and multi-millionaire businessman, floated two storylines to explain his generosity:
- He made a moral decision to repay Duffy’s debt and wanted the public to believe the payment came from Duffy because one doesn’t boast about one’s good deeds. Wright is an Anglican and quoted Matthew 6:3 (when you give to the needy you shouldn’t trumpet it from the rooftops).
- The Conservatives are touchy about expense claim scandals (remember Bev Oda’s $16 glass of OJ) because they’re harmful to The Brand.
Wright tied himself into knots trying to justify these two storylines.
Moral decision or political decision
Wright was comfortable with the Conservative Party paying Duffy’s expense claim when it was $30,000 saying it was similar to the Party covering a politician’s legal expenses. The fact that legal expenses are legitimate expenses while improperly claimed personal expenses are not doesn’t seem to have crossed his Harvard educated legal mind.
Wright became angry when he discovered Duffy’s claim was for $90,000 not $30,000, saying the per diem housing expense was “qualitatively different”. Why? Fraud is fraud whether it’s a $30,000 fraud or three times bigger.
Nevertheless Wright found a way to observe Matthew 6:3 and protect The Brand: he used the resources of the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) to run Duffygate.
He told Duffy to say he’d made a mistake (a lie) and that he’d repaid the improperly claimed expenses (another lie).
In return Wright agreed to:
- Pay $90,000 to Duffy
- Get Senator Gerstein, the chair of the Conservative Fund, to use his “channel” at Deloitte’s to stop scrutinizing Duffy’s expenses (interference with an independent auditing firm)
- Get Senator LeBreton, the Conservative senate leader, to urge her Conservative colleagues to vote against removing Duffy and to push the Senate to stop investigating Duffy (subvert legitimate Senate business)
- Make Conservative senators and MPs follow the PMO’s “media lines” when asked about Duffy (cripple the independence of senators and MPs)
Did the PM know?
Harper and Wright are adamant that the PM knew nothing about Wright’s machinations.
Apparently the PM (a control freak) was cut out of the loop by his chief-of-staff, his principal secretary, his director of communications, his manager of parliamentary affairs, the PMO’s special legal advisor, the PMO’s spokesman, the PMO’s issues management director and three high ranking Conservative senators, one of whom chaired the Conservative Party Fund.
Duffy’s lawyer suggested that Harper was well aware of Duffygate and that Wright used Harper’s personal secretary, Ray Novak, as a conduit to the PM in order to give his boss “plausible deniability.” Wright denied it.
In any event one thing is clear. Wright and the PMO willfully deceived the public and Harper is sticking to the explanation that he was duped by those closest to him…which begs the question: how can Canadians trust Harper to run the country when he can’t control the Prime Minister’s Office?
Why did Wright do it?
Wright says he pushed the PMO into Duffygate because “we thought [Duffy] owed the money on a moral or principled basis.”
He says “I was happy to have people believe that [Duffy] had repaid. I don’t think it made it meaningfully different that I contributed.”
Who paid may not be “meaningfully different” to Wright but the fact that Wright’s bargain with Duffy required Duffy to lie to the public and Wright used every resource available to him at the PMO to cover up the lie is “meaningfully different” to Canadians who expect the PMO to observe the principles of democracy; not operate in a moral vacuum.
Perhaps the question of Wright’s motivation boils down to this: Wright would protect the Prime Minister and The Brand at all costs because he is loyal to the boss.
In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail, Arthur Hamilton, the Conservative Party’s top lawyer and an evangelical Christian, said “If you’re a Christian, you believe that God owns your next breath.” Then he described his relationship with Harper and said, “I’m here at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. So to renounce my statement from earlier this day: He owns my next breath.”
Stephen Harper may own the next breath of his lawyer, his chief of staff, the PMO staffers, Conservative senators and high level Conservatives bureaucrats, but he doesn’t own my next breath or yours.
On Oct 19 use your next breath to replace an elected dictatorship with an elected democracy. Throw Harper out of office.