Monday, May 20, 2013


In an attempt to put Nigel Wright's resignation in perspective, Paul Wells returns to a passage he and John Geddes wrote two years ago:

Someone who was there paraphrased Harper’s message to his ministers at his first cabinet meeting in 2006: “I am the kingpin. So whatever you do around me, you have to know that I am sacrosanct.” Harper was telling his ministers that they were expendable but that he wasn’t. If they had to go so that his credibility and his ability to get things done were protected, so be it.
It wasn’t personal,” this source said. “It was his office.”

If you work for Stephen Harper you're expected to take the blame. That's what Nigel Wright did yesterday. The talking points will be: "This was Nigel's mistake. He paid the price. Case closed."

But this is Stephen Harper. We know the man well enough by now to understand that the $90.000 cheque was not just Wright's idea. His statement yesterday hints that there was more going on behind the scenes:

“I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.”

Harper didn't know the means. He didn't want to know. But who hatched the plan? And why? Surely the answer must have something to do with information Harper wanted to bury. That's not surprising. Stephen Harper works hard to make sure information he does not approve goes down the memory hole. Wells writes:

It’s really sweet that Stephen Harper believes he cannot win a fair fight of full information in the light of day, but as an operating principle it is getting tired. The desire to bring every debate to a screaming halt rather than engage the debate is one of this prime minister’s two or three most obvious defining characteristics. It’s obvious even where scandal is not involved. As one example among many, the Supreme Court reference on Senate reform this autumn will hear three days of public arguments the Harper government did everything to avoid, first by stalling for years on the very notion of a reference, and then by asking the Court, pathetically, to bypass public argument and go straight to delivering an opinion.

We will see more of that in the days ahead. It is easy to predict, based on long observation of this prime minister, that any question about what this government did, what this prime minister’s Senate appointees did, how Harper’s office handled it, and what will be done to fix these attitudes in the future will be answered with, “Nigel Wright gave up his job. Isn’t that enough? It’s time to move on.”

Wright's resignation is supposed to put an end to the matter. It's all very Nixonian. But, as that president discovered, the cover up is worse than the crime.


Lorne said...

I have been thinking about this entire imbroglio quite a bit these past few days, Owen. One can't help but see this entire episode, and the fact that after tomorrow, with no acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation to the Canadian people, Harper is fleeing to South America, as a scenario worthy of a banana republic dictatorship.

IF this doesn't resonate with Canadian voters right through to the next election, I will hold little hope for our future as a self-respecting people and country.

Owen Gray said...

It's standard operating procedure, Lorne, for Harper to shut down the store when he gets in trouble -- whether it's proroguing Parliament or refusing to make documents on the treatment of Afghan prisoners public.

The difference this time is that the issue is close to home -- taxpayers' money -- and a man who looks like he has been feeding at the public trough.

If voters can't connect the dots on this one, our democracy is in deep trouble.

Dana said...

2015 is a long way off.

Mulcair will remind voters of the scandals and the malfeasance.

Trudeau will play the role of Adrian Dix and be nicey nicey not mentioning any scandals or malfeasance.

Canadians will be confused by this and the non Harper vote will split.

The Harperites will squeak thru the middle.

The LPC will tear Justin Trudeau limb from limb and throw his remains in the Rideau Canal.

Owen Gray said...

It's possible, Dana. But remember. In 1972, Nixon won 49 states. He looked invulnerable. Two years later, he was gone.

Dana said...

Nixon had a 2 party state to survive.

Harper doesn't. He has 3 other parties to play off against each other and in one province he's go a 5 party state.

Nixon had a press that wouldn't let go.

Harper has a press with no jaw bones let alone teeth.

Nixon had a congress that started to get cramps about him.

Harper has such an obedient caucus and membership that he could kill his children on live television and his approval ratings wouldn't move much and his caucus would praise his courage and transparency.

Nixon had a country that was awake.

Harper has this misbegotten presbyterian vestige of a corrupted empire.

Owen Gray said...

And some would argue that his party has gone over a cliff, Dana.

The analogy is imperfect. But, if we had a press that refused to bow and scrape to gain admittance to the Inner Sanctum, there might be some hope.

Edstock said...

It's 7 months to 2014. I believe the election is something like 20 months away, but I could be wrong.

But it's an eternity in politics. Stevie could do a lot of fixing, or it will continue to fall apart. Considering the Action Plan's sophistication and positive reception, and the Con clumsiness, plus I don't see any replacement talent in the party to replace his current chimps and buffoons. Stevie is a legend in his own mind, and he's going to ride it in all the way. That's my guess.

Owen Gray said...

I agree with you, Ed. I don't think Harper will resign. His party is Harper-centric. There is no Gerald Ford waiting in the wings.

But Nixon left because of building pressure for him to go -- and because it became clear that he had obstructed justice.

It's critical that the opposition and the press keep digging, as Harper tries to bury this one.