Over the summer, at barbecues and corn-boils across the nation, Conservative MPs and senators got an earful about the Senate scandal. And when they returned they were going to do something about Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
So it wasn’t surprising that the first order of business at the new sitting of the Senate was a resolution to banish this un-holy trio from their midst, bereft of any pay and benefits.
This move was taken before the police had the time and opportunity to complete their investigation into the allegations that the three had committed any crimes with regard to the abuse of their expenses, and before the police could determine if the $90,000 cheque that Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, wrote to cover Mike Duffy’s expenses constituted an attempt to influence a public official.
As a former diplomat Ms. Wallin took the government message to Bay Street and business elites across the country.
Mr. Duffy, who always played well on the Kiwanis and Rotary club circuit across the nation, became very popular among Tories MPs looking for a speaker for fund-raisers and annual meetings. In the bingo halls of the nation, Tories loved him. None more so than the biggest Conservative of them all, Stephen Harper. On more than one occasion the Prime Minister lauded the work of both his celebrity appointments.
But it was soon discovered that celebrities take a lot of care and feeding, that their egos need to constantly stroked, that they have a lifestyle that needs to be supported. When the abuse of their expense accounts first came to light the initial reaction was to circle the wagons to protect their own. When the extent of the abuse became known they brought in the auditors and subsequently sent these files to the police.
As most people know police investigations take time. With a public growing tired of supporting the celebrity senators in their privileged position, time and patience were in short supply among the Conservative hierarchy. They concocted something called “gross negligence of Senate resources” and proceeded to strip them of their right to sit in the Senate and to take away their pay and benefits without a trial or of the any normal legal protections afforded people charged with a crime.
Mr. Duffy fought back. Contradicting the prime minister’s claim that only Nigel Wright knew of the $90,000 payment to cover his expenses, Mr. Duffy claimed that the prime minister, a number of people on his staff, including his present chief of staff and the leadership of the senate all knew about the payment.
It was his word against the prime minister’s, but the fact that the debate still rages is an indication Mr. Duffy has cast some doubts among the faithful.
Ms. Wallin picked up on the theme of the injustice of the proceedings claiming she was being forced to defend herself without legal counsel, without being able to call witnesses on her behalf, without being able to cross-examine her accusers or fully know the accusations being made.
There is support for this stance. That a sophisticated senator like Hugh Segal is opposed is not so surprising, but Manitoba’s Don Plett voicing his opposition to the measure is. Senator Plett is a lifelong Tory, and unlike many senators he is not a lawyer, he is in fact a plumber. But, he senses an injustice.
What the government surely thought as going to be a slam-dunk popular move has rebounded and focused the nation on what many see as Stephen Harper’s Achilles’ heel, his arrogant and arbitrary manner of dealing with problems.
Whether he is right or wrong, Mr. Duffy has hobbled the prime minister. People now doubt his claims that he didn’t know was what going on. For others his solution to the Senate scandal is worse than the problem.
If, when the Senate votes next week, and it is an almost unthinkable premise, but if, the senate defeats the motion to throw the wayward senators out of the chamber, Stephen Harper will be sorely damaged in the eyes of the nation, in the eyes of his parliamentary caucus and in the eyes of the membership of the Conservative Party which gathers for its annual convention in Calgary next weekend.
Even if the measure passes, it’s going to take a lot of polishing to have Stephen Harper again perceived as the knight in shining armor he once was.
- Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: email@example.com