Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Contempt To Contemptible

In 2011, Stephen Harper was found in contempt of Parliament.  At the time, he defined contempt as "being outvoted." And, having won the subsequent election, he proceeded on the assumption that "contempt" was a meaningless concept. What mattered was winning.

After Mike Duffy's speech in the Senate yesterday, Mr. Harper will be forced to re-examine his definition of contempt. For, as Michael den Tandt writes, his house of cards is falling apart:

Here’s where this leads: If Duffy’s story is true, and he can indeed prove it, then the entire senior Conservative power structure in Ottawa is on trial. And if, as [Duffy's lawyer, Donald] Bayne has hinted, there’s evidence the prime minister knew of the Wright-Duffy deal before May 15 — when he has said repeatedly he did not know — then Harper himself will be irreparably damaged.

Den Tandt believes that the only way out is a public inquiry, where all the principals -- including Mr. Harper -- must testify under oath:

There’s just one way to get to the bottom of it. The principals — including Wright, Duffy, former PMO director of issues management Chris Woodcock, LeBreton, former PMO lawyer Benjamin Perrin and indeed Harper himself, as well as Brazeau and Wallin — must tell their stories under oath, in a public forum. Emails and documents must be made public. If there’s been lying or other wrongdoing, those responsible must take their lumps — up to and including the PM himself.

But that's the last thing Stephen Harper wants. He knows what the Gomery Inquiry did to the Liberals. Without it, Stephen Harper would not be prime minister. And Mr. Harper is not one for testifying under oath. He will do anything and everything to make sure that doesn't happen.

One thing is certain. The prime minister is going to be schooled in the difference between "contempt" and "contemptible."  And, this time, he's going to be on the receiving end.


Michael Taylor said...

Owen you have nailed it! Mr Harper has truly got away with a litany of poor decisions and bad behaviour by COUNTING ON citizens to ignore individual events. Yes, his response to the parlamentary contempt finding was most telling! He also has blatantly refused to take, yet alone answer questions regarding so many important issues. One does not have to be a member of the Ottawa press core to sense the lack of accountability of this man! Hailed as a brilliant tactician, one has to wonder what was he thinking when he thought that he could suspend these folks from the senate without penalty?

Owen Gray said...

Harper has worked under the delusion, Michael, that everyone in his entourage will genuflect.

In Duffy he has encountered a man -- with an ego as big as his own -- who will not grovel. The revolt has begun.

It will be interesting to hear what Wallin says later today.

Lorne said...

I rather hope the RCMP brings charges against Duffy, Owen, so that the truth can come out. I agree, as you suggest, that Harper will never endorse a public inquiry, and I agree that he will never testify. Being subpoenaed in a criminal matter, however, would be very difficult for the Prime Minister to avoid giving testimony, despite how much he treats all institutions with withering contempt.

Owen Gray said...

Duffy's choice of Bayne as his lawyer suggests -- at least to me, Lorne -- that Duffy is quite willing to take his case to court.

If things do wind up there, Harper will find that all of his exits are covered.

rumleyfips said...

The only way I can see avoiding a hearingb is for Harper to order the RCMP to stand down and order the Concervative Senate caucus to stop the inquiry and let Duffy stay. No sworn testimony, stonewall and wait.

The problem for Harper is that the emails are out there in more than one place. Given the way Harper is damaging the party, a leak would almost surely occur. While not as damaging as a judicial finding it would end Harper's career and legacy and cost the party dearly.

The Mound of Sound said...

Owen, we still have a seriously incomplete grasp of the facts. We've seen none of the documents. I spent almost an hour on the phone last night with someone who has read many of the letters, memos and e-mails - many of them the documents that supposedly vanished from the PMO later.

I cannot relate specifics but I'm told there are documents that "have Harper's fingerprints all over them" and there is indeed a smoking gun document that Duffy's lawyer alluded to. There are conversations to which Duffy's wife and sister were on the line, listening in. Duffy, in his early reporting days, was masterful at recording phone conversations. There are tapes although they're only of secondary players.

The way everything falls together, Harper cannot afford to let Duffy be prosecuted. Harper cannot allow himself to be put under oath. Harper cannot allow Nigel Wright to testify because Wright would be unable, under oath, to repeat the fable that Harper didn't know anything, much less everything.

Owen Gray said...

The emails are critical, rumley. Despite PMO protestations to the contrary, they exist in unedited form.

And they're bound to leak. Harper's attempt to deny involvement will be hard to sustain.

Owen Gray said...

It's hard to believe that Duffy didn't know how to protect himself from the Harper machine, Mound. He's an old hand at this business.

Which makes it equally hard to believe that the machine could not foresee the problems it would encounter if it tried to expel Duffy.

Be that as it may, Harper has lost control of this one. And. even if he should order the expulsions void, the chickens are coming home to roost.

The Mound of Sound said...

Owen, Duffy today is not the Mike Duffy that I knew 30-odd years ago. He's lost a lot of his drive, his edge. He's older, slower, in poor health. I think the Senate was supposed to be the equivalent of a Victorian Old Soldiers' Home for Duffy.

His lack of judgment in circulating that first e-mail was phenomenal. That's the sine qua non of this entire scandal. It's the skeleton on which we're now hanging all this sinew and tissue.

There's plenty of arrogance, even hubris, to cover most of the main players in this business. There's hardly anything that they've done that they would have done had they seriously believed it might come out in public.

Those whom the gods would destroy...

There's a panic and clumsiness that speaks of desperation in everything that's still playing out. Harper has an amazing playbook for handling scandals but it's not working here, not yet at least. This is ugly and it's sticking. Harper is beginning to look like Lady Macbeth.

I'm not sure anyone is in control of events now. Duffy has raised and manned his barricades but it's not clear how he could go on the attack. Harper seems to be retreating into his bunker.

The best thing Harper has going for him is the Opposition. They're content to read the papers and toss out questions in QP but have done absolutely nothing to advance this scandal or bring real pressure on Harper. I guess it really doesn't matter - Liberal and NDP loyalists think they're doing a terrific job.

Owen Gray said...

If the opposition isn't up to the job, Mound, the only institution left is the one in which both Duffy and Wallin claimed membership.

And that raises the question of how badly they have been co-opted -- and whether the former journalists will become sources for the new generation of journalists.

Anonymous said...

Harper isn't even a Conservative. Harper was Policy Chief for his, Northern Foundation of 1989. Harper doesn't govern, he dictates. All Dictators are control freaks. Harper will fry everyone he needs to, so he can stay in office. Harper has no morals nor ethics what-so-ever.

Harper is rabidly, trying to shift his blame onto others. I'm not buying it. I also believe Harper cheated to win his so called majority, with his robo-call fraud.

Owen Gray said...

Duffy's speech makes it clear how Harper operates, Anon. And what goes around comes around.