Senator Duffy’s Going to Court but PM Harper’s on Trial

John Weissenberger
July 31, 2014
In the federal election eight months from now we’ll find out how much damage the latest Quebec-centric political scandal has caused the Liberal Party of Canada. Previous ones, like the “Adscam” affair that crippled the Liberals in the 2006 election, involved millions of misappropriated tax dollars. So far “Lavagate” is about meddling with justice, not stealing money. The “Duffygate” scandal that dogged the Conservatives in the 2015 election involved a paltry $90,000 – and it got paid back. So it wasn’t really about money either. Or justice, as it turned out, when none of the charges stuck. As John Weissenberger wrote for C2C, it was mainly about the allegedly diabolical machinations of Stephen Harper. Readers can judge for themselves whether it belongs in the same league as Adscam or Lavagate.

Senator Duffy’s Going to Court but PM Harper’s on Trial

John Weissenberger
July 31, 2014
In the federal election eight months from now we’ll find out how much damage the latest Quebec-centric political scandal has caused the Liberal Party of Canada. Previous ones, like the “Adscam” affair that crippled the Liberals in the 2006 election, involved millions of misappropriated tax dollars. So far “Lavagate” is about meddling with justice, not stealing money. The “Duffygate” scandal that dogged the Conservatives in the 2015 election involved a paltry $90,000 – and it got paid back. So it wasn’t really about money either. Or justice, as it turned out, when none of the charges stuck. As John Weissenberger wrote for C2C, it was mainly about the allegedly diabolical machinations of Stephen Harper. Readers can judge for themselves whether it belongs in the same league as Adscam or Lavagate.
Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” said Dr. Freud. Bill Clinton knew it, and many Canadian political commentators would do well to remember it too. It’s become a minor intellectual exercise sifting facts from the speculation and self-interested hyperbole in political news coverage, and the story of the lamentable Senator Mike Duffy is no exception.

A straightforward account of the most likely chain of events in the case was given by the National Post’s John Ivison some weeks after Nigel Wright’s resignation. On arrival in the Red Chamber, Duffy feasted on expenses like a PEI seal at an oyster bar. Like other Senators who pretend to live in their constituencies, he claimed a housing allowance for his Bytown digs. When the story broke, Prime Minister Harper ordered him to pay back the money. Duffy refused, so Harper Chief of Staff Wright wrote a personal cheque to pay back taxpayers, kill the story, and protect his boss. But blaming the shifty Senator and rationally explaining the actions of others in the periphery was just too dull, and didn’t even begin to feed the yawning maw of the 24-hour news cycle.

Last month the RCMP laid 30 criminal charges against Duffy related to rapacious expense claims, plus one related to the cheque he received from Wright. This revitalized the story that’s been making news for almost two years, and launched a whole new barrage of speculation that Duffy’s trial will land smack in the middle of the October 2015 election campaign. He’ll be singing like a bird in the prisoner’s dock while the Prime Minister is fighting off a court order to testify, and the Harper Conservative era will end with an ignominious whimper.

Duffy’s portrayal of himself as a victim and his actions as somehow understandable, if ethically-challenged, makes for a potent political cocktail because the Duffy-as-victim angle jives with some of the “memes” constructed by political opponents and analysts of the Harper government. No matter how convoluted or counterfactual these narratives, cobbled together with various unrelated facts and fiction, many now have a life of their own.

The victim meme fits into the broader “vindictive Harper” meme (see also: “angry Harper” meme) expounded by some commentators, even some conservative ones. This postulates that every disgruntled former Conservative staffer or politician is a victim of egregious treatment from the party, PMO and, of course, the Prime Minister. All of them are victims who were thrown under the bus and, whatever the circumstances of their estrangement from the government, it had nothing to do with their own actions.

The challenge Duffy faces is obscuring his relationship to the expense-claim cookie jar. Assuming the jar was open, with unclear rules governing consumption of cookies, he still has to justify taking and eating so many of them. Tough slog that, but Duffy’s been preparing for this day a long time. Twenty-two years ago, on the night of referendum the Charlottetown Accord referendum, then-CTV News host Duffy was covering it from a Reform Party gathering in Calgary’s Palliser Hotel. One of us was arranging an interview for him, and he confided that he had arranged for a personal elevator – “due to his heart condition”. On the ride up to his suite he garrulously quipped, “Please don’t tell anyone, Frank Magazine will have a field day”.

But Frank’s Puffster knows a powerful meme when he sees it, and he’s latched on to a good one in the “evil PMO” meme (see: “nefarious scheme/monstrous fraud”). This portrays the Prime Minister’s Office as all-powerful, all-seeing and all-knowing. It is able to orchestrate – with a relatively small, but obviously malignantly gifted staff – complex, Byzantine plots which are barely discernable to even the keenest observer. It is left to dedicated whistle-blowers like Mr. Duffy and ethically-pure, well-intentioned opposition politicians to uncover this. This takes us almost into 9-11 as an inside job territory, for you would need three times the malignantly gifted staff, and the ethics of a Liberal PMO, to execute the nefarious schemes conjured by Duffy, the opposition, and their press gallery publicists.

What is perhaps most frustrating for Conservatives is the idea that there is “ethical equivalence” between Tory transgressions and those of their Liberal predecessors. It is well known that the Liberals presided over an extensive kleptocracy during the Chretien era. They set up organizations within government to funnel public money to the Liberal Party and election of its candidates, defrauding Canadians out of tens of millions of dollars. Besides the soliciting and collecting of political donations from charities and government organizations, there was the seven-figure theft of the Sponsorship Scandal and the nine-figure waste of the HRSDC and Gun Registry boondoggles. The current government should be held accountable for its abuses of power and policy fumbles, but it seems cruel and unusual to see them hammered relentlessly over public money that was repaid in the Duffy affair, or has not actually been spent in the so-called F-35 scandal.

The Harper government should also be held accountable for appointing Duffy, and his disgraceful Senate colleagues Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, in the first place. Making good political appointments is crucial to good governance. These appointments were failures of judgment at best; crass and opportunistic political machinations at worst. Maybe it was all part of the PM’s diabolical plan to discredit the Senate so he could reform or abolish it, as columnist Rex Murphy has sarcastically suggested. Whatever the motive, it appears a hard-earned lesson has been learned, and there may never be another Senate appointment.

The bottom line for Conservatives is how the Duffy affair and its associated memes will affect next year’s election. A trial featuring daily doses of imaginative yarn-spinning by the Old Duff certainly won’t help them. At least one analyst (again, Mr. Ivison) thinks the Duffy trial, and possible testimony by the Prime Minister, might be a tipping point for the government. When we first saw the tipping point reference, we thought he meant the point where the public realized this was farce, not tragedy; and that people would finally have had their fill of the spectacle.

This is where we hope the sense of the public will land, judging the government by the sum of its achievements and failures rather than on the tortuous psyche of one Senator. Of course the opposition will continue to weave its alternate reality, drawing on the score of invented memes and conspiracies. But that too is farce.

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

Want More Affordable Housing in Canada? Build More Houses

Solving Canada’s housing crisis shouldn’t require more than a single lesson in economics. When prices are high, a free market always responds and supplies more. Yet amidst Canada’s severe problems of housing affordability, this foolproof mechanism is continually frustrated by governments that are either ignorant of how markets work, fixated on preserving the status quo or display naked contempt for the profit motive. Peter Shawn Taylor looks at the scorn heaped on land developers, landlords and the rest of the housing supply industry and wonders how they became the villains of this story.

Thinking Clearly in a Time of Panic

How should the conservative mind respond to the coronavirus pandemic? Panic and despair are in ample supply, and the urge to succumb appears widespread. Others have steered, via deliberate ignorance, to fatalism, though the walls are closing in on such rebels. Both extremes are beneath thoughtful conservatives. C2C Editor-in-Chief George Koch counsels that however dark today might appear, the eternal search for objective truth – the foundation for all conservative thought – is the first necessary step along the path to seeing humankind through to brighter days.

Future of Conservatism Series Part IV: Rallying the World’s Centre-Right Parties

As Canada’s Conservatives evaluate leadership hopefuls and ponder what their party is about and which path might lead to electoral victory, it’s easy to ignore international politics. They should take a look, for the world holds dozens of established centre-right democratic parties, and many are tackling challenges of relevance and adaptation at least as steep as those burdening Canada’s Conservatives. John Weissenberger travelled to Washington, D.C. for the annual conference of the International Democrat Union (IDU) and provides his assessment in this essay. Later this year, once international travel is restored, Weissenberger heads to Vienna to deepen his understanding at the IDU’s 2020 Forum.

Averting “Climate Poverty” for Canada’s Middle Class

Pursuing grandiose visions tends to cloud judgment, and when the vision is saving our very planet from an apprehended climate crisis, it’s little surprise that numbers are fudged, logic is twisted, the hardest-hit are ignored and entire social classes are cast into the trash. Matthew Lau, however, refuses to be dazzled by dreams. In this article, Lau remains rooted in reality and fixed on crunching the numbers to come up with some arresting conclusions about the huge costs of government climate policies to working people here and now, set against marginal if not ephemeral benefits to come over the next 80 years.

Hit the Bench: Beverley McLachlin’s Reputation Takes a Dive in Retirement

When Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin stepped down in 2017, she was regarded as one of the most consequential jurists in Canadian history, largely due to her court’s activist approach to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Her career arc was also widely considered a triumph of progressive feminism in the face of an entrenched legal patriarchy. That reputation is due for a re-assessment. Grant A. Brown sifts through the evidence of McLachlin’s autobiography and various post-retirement missteps, and unearths what he feels is a surprising lack of principle, objectivity and sound reasoning.

Stronger Alliances with First Nations Could Help Overcome Blockade Disruptions

The sight of Justin Trudeau’s ministers genuflecting before petty aristocrats, anarchists, tire-burners and masked thugs sickened millions of Canadians – and made some of us think about hoarding critical supplies. Aside from the venality and sheer ineffectiveness of the Liberals’ approach, Gwyn Morgan was struck by our enlightened rulers’ bone-headed misunderstanding of diplomacy. Going cap-in-hand to the people who despise you is unlikely to end well. And when there are other options, it’s unforgivable. Morgan suggests instead applying age-old principles of diplomacy – like supporting one’s allies to maximize their influence. He should know, for he has done it himself.

Share This Story

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on print

Donate

Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

* indicates required