After days of people not talking about the whole ClusterDuff affair, suddenly there was plenty being said today. First, Aaron Wherry at Maclean’s got in touch with Senator Tkachuk of the Board of Internal Economy (who had been away after scheduled surgery), who insisted that he took no direction from Nigel Wright about scrubbing his audit report, and that they decided to tone down the language simply because he had paid the money back already. Tkachuk also praised the media for uncovering more of Senator Mike Duffy’s questionable spending, as it gives them more to work with. Outside, the CBC spoke with several Senators, most of whom were outraged by the situation, including Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth (3:55 on the clip), who said point blank that she believes that what Duffy did was fraud. Ouch. From the Senate, we learned that the RCMP had asked for documents related to the affair including copies of the Senate rules going back a decade. Later in the day, Duffy himself finally spoke with reporters – albeit somewhat fleetingly, saying that he wants an open inquiry and insisted that he wasn’t going to resign – sounding utterly dismissive at the very notion – but what was most interesting was the way he caught himself when asked what he believes Nigel Wright told the Prime Minister. “I have no idea,” he said and paused. “I would find…” And then caught himself. “I just don’t know.” But rather than answer other questions, he insisted that everyone wait for all to be revealed by the investigations. Given that more of his campaign expenses being billed to the Senate are being turned up, well, a lot more may be revealed than he counted on. Elsewhere in the Senate, Liberal Senator George Furey, who was in the minority when the Duffy report was edited and released, says that Tkachuk should step aside from the committee during the review of the Duffy audit, and that the executive of the committee – himself – recuse themselves to do away with hints of bias. The CBC, meanwhile, has acquired some of the letters between Duffy and Tkachuk around the audit. And in Colombia, Harper himself was actually answering more questions from the media, and apparently sounded a bit more contrite on the whole ClusterDuff situation, and admitted that maybe he should have acted sooner when he learned of the cheque from Wright.
This past week, the calls for Senate reform and/or abolition have suddenly taken on a renewed fever pitch – despite the fact that the issue has precisely zero to do with the problems that certain members of said institution face. But it hasn’t stopped the floodgates of shallow, insipid, and frankly boneheaded plans and schemes from being forwarded, each person more confident than the last that they know the true meaning of democracy and how to deliver the panacea to the supposed ills of our Parliamentary democracy.
With Harper still away, now in Colombia, and Justin Trudeau on an Atlantic Canada mall food court tour, and Thomas Mulcair, well, elsewhere, it was only Elizabeth May as the sole party leader in the House. That left it up to David Christopherson to kick off QP on behalf of the NDP by shouting out his script about Senator Duffy’s primary residency. James Moore, the designated back-up PM du jour, assured him that new questions had been raised which was why the report was being re-evaluated. Christopherson and then Françoise Boivin tried to then press about the knowledge in the PMO of the payment from Nigel Wright to the Senator, of any documents, but Moore repeated the PM’s long-distance assurances that he didn’t know anything about the deal until it was in the media. Ralph Goodale was up next, asking why it took so long for the PM to act about the revelation of Wright’s involvement, and offer a reminder of the Criminal Code sanctions for such a payment. Moore simply repeated the official denial of knowledge of what happened.
It only took a week, a trip to Peru and a question from a foreign journalist before Stephen Harper finally said that he was sorry over the whole Nigel Wright/Mike Duffy affair. Well, he was sorry that Wright giving the cheque happened – we’re not quite sure yet if he’s sorry that he appointed Duffy to the Senate. (Video here). So, there’s that.
Meanwhile, back home, the NDP have decided to launch a new campaign, that they say will be part of the next election, about trying to abolish the Senate. Because you know, the constitution is something that can be changed on a whim, in particular because abolition would require the unanimous consent of the provinces. In other words, Mulcair is promising to do the impossible because he won’t have to follow through with it, and he can blame the provinces if he forms government. Yay using constitutional vandalism as though there were no consequences as a political tactic! Here’s a great post on the short-sighted ridiculousness for this kind of abolition rhetoric.
After Tuesday’s rather dismal performance by the opposition in trying to hold a government to account in the face of scandal, it remained to be seen if anything would be any better today. QP got underway as Thomas Mulcair stood to read a question about how asking the Senate Board of Internal Economy looking into the Duffy affair was tantamount to Paul Martin asking Jean Chrétien to investigate the sponsorship scandal. John Baird, once more the designated back-up PM du jour, said that he had indicated the audit was being referred to two independent bodies, but didn’t clarify or dispute Mulcair’s assertion that it was Internal Economy. Mulcair pressed for documents related to the affair, but Baird insisted that no documents existed to the best of his knowledge. Nathan Cullen tried once more to get answers, but got the very same carefully parsed answers. Justin Trudeau was up next and asked who gave the order for the Conservative majority on the Board of Internal Economy to whitewash the Duffy audit report — and offered to provide the original, damning audit. Baird consisted to insist that the audit found improper expenses, which were paid back, but it should be noted that the talking point that Wright did the honourable thing in writing the cheque had vanished, and there was no disputing that his resignation was accepted once the PM found out about the transaction.
They might as well not have bothered. Harper invited the media in to watch his caucus speech, and gave a bland non-statement about how he was very upset (said in a monotone), “Yay Accountability Act!” and hey, the Senate needs to be reformed – err, except that absolutely nothing about his “reform” plans would do anything about this situation. And so, Harper said nothing about Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, Wright, or the $90,000 cheque, and because he took no questions, some reporters started shouting them out before they were herded out. And then he got on a plane for Peru, which was planned at least a month in advance, but don’t let that stop Mulcair or the conspiracy theorists from trying to claim that he engineered the Clusterduff explosions to go off just as the trip was planned – as though there were enough competence in the PMO to pull that one off. John Ivison ripped Harper over the failure of the speech, and points to the unhappiness on the backbench that these events transpired and Harper appears to be taking it out on them, rather than looking at the events that transpired in the Centre. Michael Den Tandt writes about how this was a train wreck, and that it broke faith with Harper’s base.
With the Clusterduff explosions still ringing in the air, and Harper on his way to Peru, it was a somewhat tense mood in the House as Question Period started. Thomas Mulcair began by reading a dig about Harper jetting off to Peru before demanding that the RCMP be called in and all papers be turned over. John Baird, the designated back-up PM du jour, read a carefully prepared script about how Harper didn’t know about the payment until last week, and that he made a strong statement about it that morning. Françoise Boivin tried another kick at the same questions, bringing up his iron-fisted control and micromanagement of his office to indicate that he had to be aware, but Baird told her that he’d already given a clear answer, and that perhaps she learn how to roll with QP (as opposed to sticking to her script). Justin Trudeau decried that the government had lost its moral compass, and asked the for the documents on the deal between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. Baird responded with the very same answer, that nobody knew anything. For his final question, Trudeau wanted an apology to Canadians over the whole affair, but Baird wasn’t about to provide one.
The shrapnel from the Clusterduff explosion continues to ricochet around the capital as Parliament resumes today. Over in the PMO, the latest casualty is the former special council and legal advisor, Benjamin Perrin (who actually left in April to return to teaching law), who drafted the agreement between Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy. But Perrin and Wright assert that Harper wasn’t told – because, plausible deniability, I guess. While the Senate is going to be seized with the audit reports and the proposed new rules, now that they’ve had the week to look them over, the House is going to be some kind of fun, as the NDP bray about ethics and accountability, and Harper, well, heads to Peru and then a Pacific summit (that was all pre-arranged long before any of this broke, before any of you start getting any ideas about this foreign travel being a little too convenient). The NDP have decided to ride the ethics train and demand that the RCMP look into the Nigel Wright/Mike Duffy affair, because they’re apparently not content to let the Conservatives continue to self-immolate. They also seem to be oblivious to the obvious Conservative counter-offensive about Thomas Mulcair’s decades of curious silence about the attempted bribery that he declined in 1994. (I’ve been told that the Liberals will stay out of this in QP, since they are content to let said self-immolation continue unaided – we shall see). Harper is going to have an emergency caucus meeting in the morning before he heads off to Peru (though apparently nobody told Finance Committee, who are still slated to meet early). The opening portion of said meeting will be open to the media, but he won’t take any questions, which could be a long and uncomfortable silence for all the journalists travelling with him if he decides to sequester himself.
In advance of the gasket that I’m inevitably going to blow during QP today, I offer you a few reminders of what is and is not fair game about the current Clusterduff Scandal. While Harper won’t be there to answer any of these questions all week due to previously scheduled foreign travel, the designated back-up PM du jour will be handling this file, but that doesn’t mean that the opposition (and hopefully government backbenchers – oh, dare to dream) can’t ask the right kinds of questions. Continue reading
It was a move that should have happened last week, but instead it was announced at eight-thirty Sunday morning – Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, resigned over the whole writing-a-$90,000-cheque-to-Mike-Duffy thing. And then comes the waves of lament and apologists, crying that Wright was a good man who was doing his bit for public service (even though a job in the PMO is not public service – it is the opposite, in fact), though nobody seems to be asking themselves any of the critical questions about the actual wrongdoing. Taking Wright’s place will be Ray Novak, Harper’s principle secretary and a loyalist from his days in the Alliance Party, so one can expect a much more partisan tone returning to the PMO, which had softened under Wright. Not that Wright’s departure actually answers any of the questions about what actually happened between Wright and Duffy, which is kind of a big deal – as John Geddes, Paul Wells and Michael Den Tandt all write. Not that Harper will be answering questions – he’s off to Peru this week, and because each embattled Senator has resigned from their respective caucus, and Wright is also gone, the government line can be “everyone involved has now resigned, let’s just move on.” And thus becomes the government’s damage control strategy as the last few weeks of the sitting roll along before the summer recess. Oh, and the caucus is becoming restive too as this level of mismanagement starts to damage the brand of the “party of the Accountability Act.” Apparently there’s to be an emergency caucus meeting Tuesday morning before Harper flies out, and one can scarcely imagine the words that will be exchanged behind closed doors as these angry MPs line up at the mic.