Duffy trial and future of Canadian democracy

The trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy will have started, a process, which will, undoubtedly, be a colorful theatre with media coverage.

By the time these lines appear in print, the trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy will have started, a process, which will, undoubtedly, be a colorful theatre with a lot of media coverage and possibly some ground-shaking revelations.

The media attention is already intense, with lots of print and broadcast media reporters having already been assigned to cover the case, as both Mike Duffy and several important witnesses for the prosecution, people who, at one time or another, were close confidants of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s, with knowledge of his decision-making habits, scheduled to testify before the court during the trial by a single judge, as preferred by Duffy.

Maintaining his stance for quite some time that he is eager to tell his side of the story, Mike Duffy, a former CBC journalist, might have a lot of beans to spill about how the prime minister ran his office, how he managed the money left to his discretion and what kind of wrong practices have become commonplace in Ottawa.

The trial is promising to be a legal battle, where Mike Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne, with almost four decades of courtroom experience will fight more than 30 charges leveled against his client, including fraud, bribery and breach of trust in front of Justice Charles Vaillancourt, who is said to be no stranger to controversy with some quarter of a century’s experience on the bench.

But what should we really expect to see out of this trial?

Is it too naïve to hope that the case will bring to surface many of the malpractices that Ottawa establishment has long got accustomed to and show the dark side of the government that the ordinary citizens of this country have no idea about? With Duffy reportedly having mortgaged his home to pay for trial expenses, will he disclose details that will clear his name and save his residence while making some damning accusations against Harper or other politicians?

With so much at stake as the federal election campaign scheduled to start within weeks of the expected end of the trial in late June, how are Stephen Harper’s political strategists and public relations advisors preparing to counter possible revelations that could damage his already weakening reelection chances? Are the foxes going to prove too clever to be outmaneuvered or will they finally throw in the towel?

(Could it be because of the expected fallout from this trial that Harper’s cabinet ministers, one after another, are trying dissociate themselves from the prime minister?)

Of course, it is meaningless to speculate about the outcome, because at the moment we are completely unaware of what the key witnesses have to say, how Duffy will be defended by his lawyer and how the judge will assess the evidence and testimonies to be given at the court.

However, we could nurture some hope that, in the long run, this trial might help strengthen democracy in Canada.

Recently a public interest group called Samara released a report rating Canada’s democracy with a disappointing C. The group’s report said the declining voter turnout, lack of trust in people’s representatives sent to legislature after being chosen in elections and increasing disinterest in politics are bad signs when it comes to the health of democratic governance in this country.

“When you have MPs who are content just to repeat talking points and not speak directly from the heart, then I think that does propagate the view they are really just there to be puppets for the party,” said Alison Loat, the executive director of the group which published the report.

The realization of hopes for better democratic governance in Canada as a result of this trial will depend on whether the electorate will hinge the outcome to their responsibilities for their own future, that is, whether they do realize that casting a ballot every four years and then forgetting about how we are governed is not the best way of fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens.