Monday, October 28, 2013

Prime Minister Harper Should Resign – or Be Dismissed

Enough is enough. Which version of the “truth” will Prime Minister Stephen Harper try to sell Canadians tomorrow on his involvement in the Senate Scandal – a scandal which threatens to consume his government, his political party and himself.

Back in May, when confronted by the media with information that his Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, had written a $90,000 cheque to repay Senator Mike Duffy’s housing expenses, Prime Minister Harper and other Conservatives initially praised Mr. Wright for his generosity. It wasn’t to last. Less than a week later, Prime Minister Harper had regretfully accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation. Later, the RCMP would include Mr. Wright’s cheque-writing actions as part of their on-going investigation into Senate wrongdoings.

This week, it was revealed by Prime Minister Harper that Mr. Wright didn’t in fact resign – but was instead dismissed by the Prime Minister. Why is this information only now coming out, over five months after the fact? Is it just that the Prime Minister now wants to look tough to Canadians who are rightly questioning the extent of his direct involvement in this scandal? What about all of those occasions in which Harper and other Conservative MP’s referred to Mr. Wright’s “resignation”? Are we to forget that they ever happened? What is the truth?

With recent allegations being made that Wright was far from the only one in the Prime Minister’s Office who knew about the $90,000 cheque, Mr. Harper has already changed his tune from “Wright acted alone” to “Wright informed very few people”. Of course, when called to account in Question Period last week, the Prime Minister refused to tell Canadians who else knew about the deal. Further, although now expelling sound and fury at Mr. Wright for his actions, Prime Minister Harper hasn’t dismissed anybody else “in the know” for going along with the deal.

Back in the spring, the Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on whether Mr. Wright, whom at that time had resigned, would receive severance pay. Canadians were quite rightly troubled by the notion that Harper’s Chief of Staff could write a cheque to a sitting parliamentarian, resign in disgrace, and receive taxpayer-funded severance. If, as Mr. Harper now claims, Mr. Wright was dismissed, the Prime Minister could have laid to rest those fears by clearly indicating that Mr. Wright was not entitled to severance pay. Right now, Canadians don’t know whether or not – or how much – severance Mr. Wright is entitled to, largely because of the Prime Minister’s silence.

In February, the Prime Minister told Canadians that he had gone over Senator Wallin’s expenses, and determined that there wasn’t anything unusual with them. Later in the spring, Senator Wallin was kicked out of the Conservative caucus, and now this fall, she and Senators Duffy and Brazeau are facing suspensions without pay for their actions, despite in the case of Senators Duffy and Wallin, having repaid questionable expenses. With a police investigation on-going, many politicians of all stripes are questioning whether it is premature to remove parliamentarians from their jobs – and many are questioning the Prime Minister’s ethics for seeking to be judge, jury and executioner.

Defending the rights of Senators Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau to the rule of law before dismissal is a far cry from defending the actions of these Senators. But it must be done – today, these three parliamentarians find themselves in the Prime Minister’s cross hairs; who might it be tomorrow, and under what circumstances? The rule of law ought to be paramount in Canada, but clearly the Prime Minister and his supporters in the Senate are subverting the rule of law for their own partisan ends. With truth the first casualty in the Senate Scandal, we now find ourselves on a very slippery slope indeed – when parliamentarians can be removed from office without a trial, simply on a vote of their peers who happen to be from a majority political party. Canadians are rightly offended that a legal tradition dating back to the Magna Carta is being thrown away for political expediency.

Prime Minister Harper didn’t have to make these choices – he could have told Canadians the truth from the outset, rather than callously trying to manipulate matters for partisan gain. Instead of this scandal being about the profligate and potentially illegal expense claims of a few Senators, the scandal has evolved and is now clearly all about the Prime Minister. Say what you want about Stephen Harper, but he’s nobody’s fool. Mr. Harper must realize that his political supporters can scent his downfall in the air. I fully expect Conservatives to start distancing themselves from the Prime Minister, just as former cabinet Minister Peter Kent did today with his assertions that Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau ought not to be suspended at this time.

Other Conservatives need to speak out against the sheer audacity of the Prime Minister’s manipulation of the truth. There are many public service minded MP’s in the Conservative Party – many of whom must be extremely concerned about where this scandal is going to take their party. Already, good government initiatives, such as standing up for the Clarity Act, are being overlooked by Canadians, who are focused laser-like on the troubling actions of the Prime Minister – and the multiple versions of the “truth” Mr. Harper has been pushing.

“Truth” isn’t something which can be made up as you go along. There can only ever be one sequence of events. Yet, in the six months during which the Senate Scandal has dominated the news, our Prime Minister has changed his definition of the “truth” numerous times, in an attempt to gain partisan advantage. Canadians simply don’t accept that the truth can be manipulated in this manner. It’s time for Conservatives to consider a palace coup at their convention coming up in Calgary at the end of this week. That or the Prime Minister should do the honourable thing, and resign – before Canadians have the chance to dismiss him, and the rest of his party, in the next election.

(an edited version of this blogpost was provided to the Sudbury Star as a letter to the editor)

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)

1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

Very well put, Steve. Anyone with an attention span longer than the lifespan of a fruitfly should be able to see the obvious parallels between today's Wright-Duffy-Harper scandal and the Carson-Harper scandal of 2001. Deny knowing anything. Say you would never (whatever you did) had you known. Blame the staff for screwing up and hiding it from you. Then, when you're caught start making up fresh stories tailored to the emerging facts.

This man lies as freely as he draws breath.