Does anybody really believe Stephen Harper can distance himself from the Senate scandals? He’s certainly tried, along with numerous attempts to change the channel, including proroguing Parliament yet again.
Forced this week to address the issue after Mike Duffy’s speech in the Senate, Harper first tried to be dismissive and then to sound forceful, but his denials still had the ring of political weasel words. Only the most partisan of supporters believe him, and much of the scrambling he’s doing is an attempt to put out fires in the party base, which includes more than a few people unhappy with the sense of entitlement and corruption on display in Ottawa.
Comparisons to disgraced U.S. president Richard Nixon have come early and often in Harper’s tenure. The secretive, paranoid and controlling natures of both Harper and Nixon, who also kept an enemies list, made the association a given. That’s why it’s even more relevant to cite the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down Nixon: that case, too, also involved a small incident that grew into a major incident as the extent of the cover-up was revealed.
With Duffy in particular, Harper hasn’t convinced many that he didn’t know about his chief of staff Nigel Wright’s “gifting” the senator $90,000 to provide the appearance of paying back what were deemed inappropriate housing allowances. In his statement this week, Duffy claimed political optics were at play in the demand he repay the money, that he simply followed the rules – rather loose rules, granted – having been cleared by others higher up the food chain in the Conservative party.
While Duffy attempted to paint himself something of a victim, there’s much in what he said that appears far more realistic than the picture painted by Harper. Duffy has been vilified since the scandal broke, but we long ago took the measure of the prime minister and have no problem seeing his hand in this mess.
Calling Harper and his party ethically challenged would be an understatement. Critics have been pointing out examples of unethical behaviour for years. Conservative supporters have been sweeping them under a rug for just as long. Now, there’s so much blood in the water not even the most partisan Tories can ignore the reality of the situation.
It’s been a bad stretch for Harper. There’s Duffy and Wright, a pair of scandals all by themselves. And Pamela Wallin, another of Harper’s appointments to the Senate, a list that also includes Patrick Brazeau. On the robocall front, a court decision pointed the finger at some questionable activities, while not going all the way due to the limited scope of the case.
The Conservatives would rather you pay only cursory attention. Not at all if you’re inclined to vote for other parties. That’s why they hope there’s no traction for the issue of ethics, as they’ve got plenty to hide on that front, from the in-and-out financing scandal (charges pending?) to Bev Oda and the first-ever contempt of Parliament charge. And let’s not forget the long list of dubious characters and associates such as Bruce Carson and Sebastien Togneri.
Given the history, we’re no longer inclined to give Harper the benefit of the doubt. There’s smoke, and we’re sure there’s fire. The facts, and police investigations, are still unfolding, but before long all of the players – most pressingly Harper and Wright – need to face detailed and hostile questioning under oath. That would not, of course, guarantee the truth, but at least the lies would come without Parliamentary privilege and with repercussions.