The New York Times published a damning editorial this week on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s nine and a half years in power and described the period as a time of “darkening” in Canada. (The article can be read at http://www.nytimes. com/2015/08/16/opinion/sunday/the-closing-of-thecanadian-mind.html?_r=0 )
A day after the editorial appeared, I happened to be sitting in a restaurant next to a table where two seniors were having a discussion on the ongoing trial of suspended Senator Patrick Duffy and the broader issues of politics and election campaign.
I could not help overhearing one senior telling the other that she saw nothing wrong in Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s paying $90,000 from his own pocket so that Duffy could pay back taxpayer’s money. I couldn’t hear what the other senior said in response as I was not seated in a way facing her. And then I got involved in the conversation at my own table and didn’t pay much attention to how that discussion at the next table developed and didn’t think about it until I watched the evening news bulletin on the CBC which was full of Duffy trial reporting and analysis.
Is there really not anything wrong in Wright’s cutting a cheque for Duffy?
The former chief of staff was reported to have made references to the Bible in justifying his payment to Duffy as charity and his way of keeping the payment a secret (until of course it was revealed). He insisted that the amount he paid to the suspended senator came from his personal bank account.
Now there is a tricky question here: How much did Nigel Wright make as a senior government bureaucrat? Was he rich enough to throw away $90,000 just to help a senator save face? Even if he made, say, half a million dollars a year, why would he give up almost 20 per cent of his annual salary to someone who was becoming a serious nuisance for his boss, the prime minister?
Are we expected to be naïve enough to believe that Wright was not reimbursed or will not be reimbursed for this payment? As his cross examination by Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne is still continuing, we don’t know whether and how Wright will come up with answers to further questioning on the matter.
But as the defence team for Duffy continues to dig in to the email traffic among the staff of the office of the prime minister, there is bound to be more revelations into who knew how much about the payment and whether Harper was a part of the cover-up.
Despite all the damaging details coming out of the trial, which, by the way, are all circumstantial, it is quite possible that the prime minister may come out of this trial without being found legally responsible for the mess that was created by the scandal of fraudulent expense claims.
But isn’t there a wider context beyond the trial that all Canadians should be looking at when they ponder about their stance with regard to the current head of their federal government?
If one makes up a list of the scandals stemming from the Senate, whose appointees will feature prominently on that list?
Why did the most prominent cabinet ministers resign their posts one after another since the beginning of the year?
Why are war veterans starting a nationwide campaign to have any person but Stephen Harper in office after the elections?
Duffy trial, Nigel Wright’s cheque, all the emails that are being scrutinized and the repeated accusations and denials are all part of a culture of governance, that of Stephen Harper’s, described by the New York Times as “know nothing conservatism.”
As Canadians prepare to vote for their next government, they might want to answer the question that makes up the punch line of the editorial: Do Canadians like thei