The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) came to power with a promise of transparency and accountability but is now facing charges of corruption following revelations that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, cut a personal cheque for $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy to make reparations for inappropriate claims on senate expenses.
The mess with Duffy, a former journalist who long before he was given a senate seat by Harper had blurred the lines between his role as journalist and that of mouthpiece and cheerleader for the Conservatives, came about as a result of an independent audit.
Duffy is facing questions over double-dipping – claiming expenses from both the senate and the Conservative Party when he was in fact campaigning for the party – and making claims for residency in Prince Edward Island, where he is from, despite not living there, as well as making expense claims while away in Florida.
Questions about inappropriate claims are also why Conservative Senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb’s names have come up for audits. Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were appointed by the Harper government, but are now out of the Conservative senate caucus, sitting as independent senators. Harb also now sits as an independent.
But the Duffy matter has so far held our attention, not least because of his hubris. First came the news that Duffy was improperly given a heads-up about his being audited, which allowed enough time for him to cover his tracks. Then came the controversial actions of Wright – who has since resigned – and the lame explanations that followed his giving Duffy the money for repayment; something to do with saving taxpayers’ money, something else about Duffy’s wife being worried about his heart under all the stress, then something else about it being a ‘personal gift’.
None of this makes sense to ordinary Canadians. But the clear understanding is that once again political types are unashamedly filling their pockets with taxpayers’ money and circling the wagons to cover their tracks.
The last time a question of corruption drew outrage from the Canadian public, voters punished the party in power, the Liberal Party, by voting them out. That was in 2005. That is how we ended up with this lot. On the matter of accountability, Paul Martin, the prime minister at that time, held an inquiry into the matter of malfeasance in the so-called Quebec Sponsorship Scandal involving millions of dollars meant for ad agencies to promote federal Liberal programs. That did not save the Liberals from being ousted.
Harper, whose usual response to parliamentary controversy is to shrug and minimize, did that again earlier this week, obliquely referring to this “distraction”. Opposition ethics critic Charlie Angus, however, has called the matter “corruption”.
Harper says that he is angry over these allegations. Is he really? Or is he only angry that they have blown up in his face? And, does anyone believe him that he didn’t know about any of this before it hit the fan?
Where is the accountability? Where does anything he has done show Harper’s commitment to the principles he campaigned on?
Early on, he called for senate reform, but while that issue was being kicked further down the road, he selected some of the most partisan characters he could find to stack the senate in his favour with a Conservative majority. If this was his way of undermining the senate, then he may call it mission accomplished. But he is doing so at the cost of a hit to the Conservative image that will have repercussions.
Now we are expected to believe that the senate’s inquiry into itself will be enough of a response. What will it take for this Prime Minister and his caucus to understand how far out of touch they are with the rest of the country on this matter of accountability?
It is time this government comes clean. Canadians deserve no less.