Could Duffy’s trial cause early election?

Alan Holman
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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:

Organizations: Supreme Court, RCMP, National Post Conservatives

Geographic location: Kanata, Saskatchewan, Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Angus
    July 21, 2014 - 08:48

    BTW - don't be quoting Andrew Coyne. He's a supercilious twit, staring down his long nose at us plebians from the heights of his Toronto eliteism. Surely you don't think he in any way represents the average Canadian's opinion? Just another silver spooned trust fund baby.

  • Angus
    July 21, 2014 - 08:11

    Alan that's a pretty crazy column even for you. And I almost suspect you wrote it tongue in cheek. You know the courts will never move the Duffy trial along given the dockets most have and Harper would not dare go early as he has been criticized for ignoring the fixed election date in the past. And anybody who reads the national press knows full well that a number of legal experts have already stated why Duffy was charged and Wright not. You have to have criminal intent i.e. corruption to be charged. Finally Islanders are amongst the most astute of Canadians when it comes to politics. No one will ever convince them that the problems in the Senate (H of C as well, for that matter) lie only with the Conservatives. Liberals have controlled it longer and besides the Mac Harb and Raymond Lavigne cases, I suspect the auditor general's report will find many more from both parties guilty of multiple infractions if not worse. That's no doubt why the Liberals are so very quiet about all this and also why Mulcair can afford to make so much noise about it. The only answer is to abolish it. Failing that, then I think a national referendum including election as an option should be held. I feel this will strengthem Mr. Harper's hand in forcing the Premiers to fulfill the mandate he gave them to elect their own senators provincially. Then the people can decise.