It's time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call a public inquiry into Duffygate.
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin did that in the eye of the storm that was the ad sponsorship scandal. It was the only way to shore up badly-damaged public confidence in government. It also gave a measure of closure to public revulsion over serious institutional corruption -- to the degree that was possible.
It was a hard call because Martin himself was not involved in AdScam, but knew full well what opening up that barrel of worms would mean to his tenure as prime minister.
Stephen Harper, by comparison, is going down in a hail of whoppers, as the stain spreads in the PMO, reaching the Senate and even the Deloitte Forensic investigation. Careers are being ruined, the cloud of criminal charges hangs over two people, and the country staggers around in ignorance as the prime minister practices his peculiar form of transparency -- knowing absolutely nothing about anything. No director of communications can keep up with the non-sequiturs the prime minister offers as answers these days.
They're not answers -- they're efforts at optics, and poor ones at that. Usually when you change your story, you explain why. After whiplash-inducing reversals, Stephen Harper alters his account of serious matters with zero explanation. He appears to believe that repeating amended and self-interested versions of the facts is the same as telling the truth. Lacking consistency on simple matters of fact, the prime minister's credibility is now all but exhausted on Duffygate and a great many other things.
Swearing an oath might be a wonderful way to concentrate his mind.
Answer us this, Mr. Prime Minister
Here are some questions Stephen Harper needs to answer under oath:
- Did you know anything about the initial deal to pay off Mike Duffy's expense debts when they were considered to be $32,000 and the plan was to use money from the Conservative Party Fund?
- If not, how do you account for the fact that your chief of staff at the time, Nigel Wright, party bagman Senator Irving Gerstein, your legal counsel, Benjamin Perrin, party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, and at least two other PMO employees -- David Van Hemmen and Chris Woodcock -- apparently talked about little else for months starting in early February? As Nigel Wright put it, closing out the Duffy situation was the way to stop "our daily agony." Was everyone agonizing but you?
- If "good to go" on Feb. 22 simply meant it was okay with you that Duffy paid back his expenses, why on earth would Nigel Wright need your permission for that? You had already told Duffy to pay the money back on Feb. 13. So why is a "good to go" necessary over a week later?
- How many times a day did you speak to Nigel Wright? In all of those hundreds of conversations between Feb. 5 and May 15, 2013, were you verbally apprised of what was being done on your behalf in the Duffy matter? Or was your chief of staff agonizing in silence, along with all the others?
- You personally ran your eye over the expenses of Senator Pamela Wallin and pronounced them to be in order. Did you ever ask to review Mike Duffy's expenses? If so, what did you think? If not, why Wallin but not Duffy? During the tortured negotiations to close this file, Mike Duffy's first lawyer, Janice Payne, was -- according to the RCMP -- in communication with PMO legal counsel Benjamin Perrin and Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton. She wanted a guarantee that the Deloitte Forensic investigation into Duffy would end with the repayment of the disputed expense claims.
- Did both of these senior legal advisors fail to mention anything to you about this deal? It has been reported that if they didn't advise you of what was happening, they could face professional sanctions for not taking care of their client's interest. That client was you.
- When Senator Duffy approached you after a caucus meeting and you ordered him to repay the so-called improper expenses, did you ask anyone on your staff how the matter was disposed of, or did you just forget about it?
- Did Nigel Wright ever tell you that he had personally taken care of Duffy's expenses? If so, did you ask how that had been done? Did he deceive you, or did you prefer not to know for reasons of plausible deniability in case the scandal became public?
- Nigel Wright says that you did, in fact, know that the Duffy affair was taken care of through his personal intervention -- though not the exact means. Is he lying?
- Are you concerned that the Privy Council Office came up with zero documents on the Wright-Duffy affair after 23 requests from media organizations, especially since your office is handing over hundreds of documents now?
And while we're at it, Mr. Wright?
The prime minister is not the only person who needs to give a few answers under oath.
Consider how the PMO reached into another parliamentary body already in the process of conducting an independent forensic investigation and tried to engineer the course of events with respect to one Senator Mike Duffy. This is how Nigel Wright described the actions of the PMO aimed at ending the Deloitte investigation in documents released by the RCMP:
"Today (March 1, 2013) I asked Sen. Gerstein to actually work through senior contacts at Deloitte and with Sen. LeBreton... the outcome we are pushing for is for Deloitte to report publicly that if Kanata were the primary residence (of Duffy) then the amount owing would be the $90,000 figure and that since Senator Duffy has committed to repay this amount then Deloitte's work in determining primary residence is no longer needed..."
A week later, there is a progress report on Gerstein's mission and his discussion with Michael Runia, a senior partner at Deloitte. The appraisal is given by PMO staffer Patrick Rogers, also in RCMP documents:
"Senator Gerstein has just called in. He agrees with our understanding of the situation and his Deloitte contact agrees. The stage we're at now is waiting for the senator's contact to get the actual Deloitte auditor on the file to agree. The senator will call back once we have Deloitte locked in."
Here are a few questions Nigel Wright should answer under oath:
- Is the Prime Minister correct when he says that you deceived him about the solution to the Duffy affair?
- Were you fired or did you quit?
- Was your outreach to the RCMP in any way influenced by the fact that the police were looking into Elections Canada records?
- You say Benjamin Perrin knew about the $90,000 payment to Duffy. He says he wasn't consulted or involved. Weasel words or the truth?
- Do you think it was ethical for the prime minister's chief of staff to ask Irving Gerstein, senior senator and chair of the Conservative Fund, to intervene with Deloitte while they were conducting a forensic audit weeks before auditors gave even a verbal briefing to their Senate client, Senator David Tkachuk?
- Did you know that Deloitte was heavily involved in doing business with the Harper government, booking more than $50 million in contracts over the past three years?
- Would it be proper for you, as an unelected official, to try to end a forensic investigation that the Senate leadership had initiated to deal with possibly improper expenses charged to the public?
- Why would your effort to end the audit be on behalf of one senator only?
Finally, some answers due from Deloitte
There are also some questions that Deloitte needs to answer in the Wright-Duffy scandal. Why would one of Deloitte's senior partners, Michael Runia, agree to discuss an ongoing forensic investigation with the Conservative party's bagman and corporate boardroom heavy, Senator Irving Gerstein? And what, if any, pressure did he put on the actual auditors on the file to agree to Nigel Wright's plan as passed on by Senator Gerstein?
Michael Runia was to have testified earlier this week in front of the Senate's Internal Economy Committee but senior senators now say that won't be happening. Instead, the committee will hear from three auditors who looked at Duffy's expenses. It's a pity Runia will not be testifying. He would have attracted quite a crowd.
As for Mike Duffy, he has never had a problem building an audience. That's why 17 Conservative candidates got Duffy to campaign for them in 2011.
One of his earliest appearances was with then-Conservative candidate Julian Fantino when he ran in a byelection in Vaughan. Fantino's people went looking for someone to host a live tele-town hall back in November of 2010, and struck gold -- they got Mike Duffy. Duffy had, by then, left the bright lights of television journalism and was employing his talents at special Conservative events and fundraisers as a celebrity senator.
Duffy went to Fantino's office and the two men talked to 40,000 homes, with the Fantino campaign expressly banning the media from listening in and reporting on the event. An astonishing 15,000 people stayed on the line for 18 minutes, making the event a big success.
Corporal Greg Horton, the lead RCMP investigator in the Wright-Duffy affair, is now in possession of a complaint from Vaughan that the Fantino tele-town hall did not show up on Fantino's election expenses. Did it show up on Duffy's? No one knows at this point.
Sooner or later, someone is going to have to explain why the PMO went to such extraordinary lengths to keep Deloitte from poking around in the affairs of the guy with the killer wink.
That someone should be the prime minister.
Read more: Federal Politics
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