In the 2006 federal election campaign, in an attempt to win over voters who were afraid he was some wild eyed right-wing radical, Stephen Harper assured them, even if he won a majority government he would be held in check by a Liberal appointed bureaucracy, Liberal appointed judges on the Supreme Court and a Liberal majority in the Senate.
He formed a minority government in 2006, and again in 2008 before finally winning a majority in 2011. Mr. Harper has been prime minister for eight years. He has overhauled the bureaucracy, all of the senior management have been appointed by him. He now has a Conservative majority in the Senate, and he has appointed five of the nine judges sitting on the Supreme Court.
Stephen Harper is in the driver’s seat, he has full control of the machinery of government. But the Supreme Court remains pesky and it has rejected his wishes on a number of occasions.
There are a significant number of supporters in the Conservative base who believe that judges are interfering with Parliament’s right to make the laws of the land. Recently in an excellent column Andrew Coyne, a columnist for the National Post, said that if Parliament doesn’t enact laws according to the rules laid out in the constitution, it is the courts job to overturn them. And, if the government can’t write its laws according to the constitution then it should amend the constitution, which, of course, is easier said than done.
Stephen Harper continues to joust with the judges, and one suspects it has more to do with providing fodder for the Conservative base than governance.
Another blemish on the image of the Harper administration is its handling of the Senate. He has appointed very few distinguished Canadians to the Senate and a number of his appointments have been downright embarrassing.
This week, the on going soap-opera known as the ‘Senate Scandal’ again made it way onto the front pages of the nation when the RCMP laid 31 charges of fraud and breach of public trust against Kanata Senator Mike Duffy.
The fact that Mike Duffy has been charged comes as no surprise (though it has taken the RCMP a long time) but the number of charges laid, 31, and the total amount of the money involved, some $200,000, is surprising.
There are 15 charges of fraud, 15 charges of breach of trust and one charge of bribery. One of the fraud charges and one of the breach of trust charges relate to allegations that Mr. Duffy charged $90,000 for expenses concerning his residency. There are allegations of the misappropriation of some $50,000 in expenses unrelated to his residency, which resulted in nine charges of both breaches of trust and fraud. Four charges of breach of trust and four of fraud relate to allegations surrounding a contract of some $60,000 Mr Duffy gave to a friend. The bribery charge, a breach of trust charge and a fraud charge are related to a $90,000 payment Mr. Duffy received from Nigel Wright, then the chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper.
About a month a ago, the RCMP issued a press release stating that the investigation of Nigel Wright had been completed and that no charges will be laid against him. The fact that Mr. Duffy has been charged with receiving a bribe, while Mr. Wright, the payer of the bribe, seemingly gets off scot free, is a bit of a mystery.
Sen. Patrick Brazeau, who also had residency issues, was previously charged. The only senator caught up in the ‘Senate Scandal’ who has not yet been charged is Pamela Wallin of Saskatchewan. There has been no indication if charges are pending or when they might be laid.
All were expelled from the Conservative caucus initially and then from the
Senate itself. If they are found innocent then it is likely they’ll be re-admitted to the Senate, but it is doubtful they would be
welcomed back into the Conservative caucus.
Given the time it takes for a criminal case to get on the court docket and a trial arranged, the Conservatives now run the risk of a very high profile criminal trial being conducted in the middle of the next election campaign. A trial that could see the Prime Minister himself in the witness box.
With the Conservatives busy holding nominating conventions across the country, maybe they are aware of that possibility and they’re getting ready for an early election to ensure that scenario doesn’t happen.
Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: email@example.com