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Opinion

Is Harper Afraid of TV Debate? Someone Might Ask Him a Question!

PM won't answer to Conservative failures with 10 million watching.

By Michael Harris 16 May 2015 | iPolitics

Michael Harris is a writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his ''unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.'' His nine books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare Ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His work has sparked four commissions of inquiry, and three of his books have been made into movies. His new book on the Harper majority government, Party of One, is a number one bestseller. Readers can reach the author at michaelharris@ipolitics.ca.

Click here to view other iPolitics columns by by Michael Harris. This article first appeared on iPolitics and is republished with permission.

My congratulations to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative party; they've found an even better form of voter suppression than robocalls. They have refused to participate in the TV debates put on for every general election by Canada's network television consortium since 1968 -- back when voter turnout was north of 75 per cent.

For the life of me, I don't know why the PM blessed Maclean's with the task of conducting the debate, when party spokesperson Kory Teneycke and the elite journalists of 24 Seven were standing at the ready, fully funded by the taxpayers, to get the job done.

I guess Steve didn't want the 10 million viewers that CTV, Global and the CBC have to offer. After all, a mass audience would only give his opponents a bigger opening to track for the entire nation the death spiral of democracy and the rule of law in Canada -- to say nothing of the parody of Conservative ethical values the Harper regime now represents.

Maybe that's why Harper wanted a change of moderators. Steve Paikin earned a reputation as a fair and impartial moderator in the 2008 and 2011 debates. Maybe that was a problem. Or maybe it was the fact that his son, Zach, tried to run for the Liberals.

The real reason for Harper's sudden attack of cold feet is probably the Alberta election -- which offered an object lesson in how a strong debate performance can change everything. Jim Prentice didn't have enough spinners and fear-merchants to scupper the radiant sincerity of Rachel Notley.

There are a lot of things Steve might not want to be confronted with in a well-watched, well-researched television debate. Despite balanced budgets, low unemployment and a booming commodity export market under the Liberals, corruption and accountability dominated the 2006 election. The defining moment of the 2006 debate came when Stephen Harper said: ''Will you tell us Mr. Martin, how many criminal investigations are going on in your government?''

Martin was defeated by the ad sponsorship scandal, an elaborate kickback scheme that saw public money directed back to the Liberal party. Martin wore it even though he wasn't involved. To his credit, and for all the right reasons, he assembled his own firing squad in the form of the Gomery Commission.

For all the wrong reasons, Steve never called an inquiry into the robocalls scandal. Trust me -- you will never see a boomerang leave Steve's hands if he can help it.

History repeated

At the time Steve asked Martin that question about criminal investigations in 2006, the correct answer would have been ''two.'' If someone were to ask Steve the same question during the 2015 debate, he wouldn't have enough fingers on both hands to compute the response. By my count, the Harper team has been the subject of at least 15 investigations. The stable he was supposed to muck out has become a pigsty on his watch.

The Conservatives cheated in the 2006 election. Criminal charges of improper election spending were dropped in March 2012 as part of a plea deal. The CPC pleaded guilty to exceeding election spending limits and submitting fraudulent election records. They chequebooked their way out of the slime -- paying a $52,000 fine and then repaying a further $230,198.

The PM's former parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro, has been convicted on three counts of election fraud arising out of the 2008 election. He is now facing the possibility of jail time. His cousin, David Del Mastro, is also facing charges related to the 2008 election.

What about the conviction of Guelph Conservative party worker Michael Sona? Although the robocall case has faded from view, it remains an unsolved crime -- because although the existence of a conspiracy was acknowledged by two judges, the conspirators themselves remain unknown. Now that Elections Canada has been castrated by the Fair Elections Act, their identities probably will never be known.

Peter Penashue, former minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, had to step down after it was alleged that corporations had made illegal contributions to his 2011 campaign. He paid back $47,000 to Elections Canada.

When Penashue resigned, Stephen Harper stood in the House and described him as ''the best Member of Parliament Labrador ever had.'' Which was astounding. Has a Canadian prime minister ever made a clearer statement condoning cheating?

Although Penashue set up the website for his byelection campaign before he even announced his resignation, he lost to the Liberals -- the PM's bankrupt endorsement notwithstanding. Earlier this month, Penashue's official agent in the 2011 campaign, Reg Bowers, was charged with three counts under the Canada Elections Act.

Harper's 'Nightmare Team'

And then there's the little matter of Harper's Senate appointments. Senator Mike Duffy has been charged with 31 offences related to Senate spending. If convicted he faces financial ruin, probably jail time. The prime minister is on record saying he knew nothing about the secret $90,000 payment from his chief of staff to Duffy. Is there anyone beyond his immediate family (and possibly Paul Calandra) who still believes that?

What if someone asked a question during a televised debate about the PMO riding herd on an independent audit committee, viewing and altering a report protected by parliamentary privilege before it was published? What if someone asked about that Feb. 22, 2013 meeting with Nigel Wright, where the PM allegedly agreed to make Duffy pay back the money, even though Wright felt that, under the rules, the senator might not owe it? Is there anyone left alive over voting age in this country who hasn't heard about Nigel Wright's infamous ''good to go from the PM'' email?

And there's still Senator Pamela Wallin, who has not been charged but who remains under RCMP investigation for expense fraud. Stuck in political and legal purgatory, she's another Senate pick that Harper has to wear.

Suspended Senator Patrick Brazeau, who now manages a strip club, will be guest referee at a Great North Wrestling match in Ottawa scheduled for May 30, starring Hannibal The Death Dealer and Soa (Spirit of Allah) Amin. Another personal choice of the PM.

Brazeau is facing two trials on personal matters: for assault and sexual assault; and for assault, threats and possession of cocaine. A framed photo of Brazeau, the PM and the alleged victim in this case has been entered into evidence at Brazeau's ongoing sexual assault trial. The court has set aside 12 days in June for a preliminary trial on Brazeau's Senate expense charges -- the very day that Duffy's trial is scheduled to resume. That trial could easily run into the fall election.

Former Harper advisor Bruce Carson -- already a man with a criminal record before his first day on the job in the PMO -- is facing charges for influence peddling related to his work at the University of Calgary. He also will be going to court in the fall on similar charges related to a water purification company whose product he was trying to flog to native bands.

And then there's Arthur Porter, still fighting extradition from Panama back to Canada on fraud charges related to a Montreal hospital contract with SNC Lavalin. They involve an alleged $22 million in kickbacks to the good doctor and others. (Porter has cancer and has had three months to live… for several years now. The miracle of self-treatment.)

Harper appointed Porter as head of SIRC, the body that oversees CSIS. The passage of Bill C-51 leaves Canada the only nation in the Five Eyes intelligence partnership that does not have parliamentary oversight. If Porter hadn't been caught, he might still be in charge of the oversight committee monitoring CSIS. Steve the talent scout strikes again.

The Harper team had to put the debate cobra back in the basket in order to limit the damage from these and other embarrassments. And it's not like the hits haven't kept hitting: Take that humiliating security breach while the PM was doing a ''surprise'' flying tour at the front in Iraq. Despite making journalists sign an agreement stating they would not take photos of special forces soldiers for security reasons, the PMO posted photos showing their faces on 24 Seven, the government's nauseous, in-house propaganda site.

Confronted with this bozo rush to make political hay, the PMO said the military vetted the videos before they were published online. It took eight hours for the Nightmare Team to admit the videos were a security breach, to take them down, and to give one of those half-assed non-apologies this government does so well.

The Globe and Mail learned that, contrary to what the PMO said, the Department of National Defence hadn't screened the videos before they were posted. An honest mistake, or just another reflexive lie from a government that makes it up as it goes along? Remember, DND had taken the blame for a cabinet-level bungle before. When the mission in Iraq was expanded into Syria, the Harper Government claimed it was because Canada was the only other member of the coalition besides the U.S. with smart bombs. When it turned out everyone had them, Defence Minister Jason Kenney attached the goat horns to the Chief of the Defence Staff, who meekly wore them. Not this time.

Mike Duffy has said that the prime minister didn't order him to repay the expense money because he owed it: ''It's not about what you did,'' Harper said, according to Duffy. ''It's about the perception of what you did that's created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.''

Steve's record of misrule is every bit as hard to explain -- something that should become crystal clear once he's forced to answer for it, in public and on camera.  [Tyee]

Read more: Election 2015, Elections

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