October 22nd, 2013. Harper Government Falls

Stephen Harper sits down and Mike Duffy stands up

Macleans.

by Aaron Wherry  on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 6:52pm –

Senators arriving to work on Tuesday afternoon had first to get past a small band of photographers huddled outside in the cold October air around the brass doors that serve as the official front door to Parliament’s Centre Block for members of the red chamber. Inside, and up the 26 steps that senators must climb to get to the Senate foyer, the press gallery had set up a second line, some nine television cameras and more than a dozen reporters, standing in wait on the marble floor, flanked by sandstone pillars and surrounded by the grand portraits of kings and queens. One by one, senators would proceed through the doors, up the steps and, escorted by Senate security, into the mob, which would encircle and pester them with questions. Only once they set feet on the red carpet that marks the exclusive domain of the Senate, were senators safe from their press gallery tormentors.

“Brazeau!” a reporter called when Patrick Brazeau arrived and the mob closed in and attempted, without success, to coax a comment from him. The officially independent and variously beleaguered senator was preceded by Pamela Wallin and followed by Mike Duffy, each appearing on Parliament Hill to stand trial, accused of “gross negligence” in the management of their parliamentary resources and facing the possibility of suspension from the upper chamber of Parliament. The government that appointed them to the Senate was moving now to have them banned from this place.

***

Down the hall, the members of the House of Commons were convening for Question Period. And while the Senate prepared to puts three of its members on trial, the opposition in the House would now cross-examine the Prime Minister as a hostile (and ultimately uncooperative) witness.

Thomas “Ironside” Mulcair stood tall and stared directly at Stephen Harper, the NDP leader revisiting the prosecutorial air that he adopted in questioning the Prime Minister this spring. “Mr. Speaker, does the Prime Minister regret any of his actions?” Mr. Mulcair wondered. “Not Nigel Wright’s actions, not Mike Duffy’s actions, but does the Prime Minister regret any of his own actions in the Senate scandal?”

Mr. Harper stood and said only that his government expected the rules to be followed and that those who failed to follow the rules should be held accountable. He then assured the House that the government would focus on “the real priorities of Canadians, and that is jobs, growth and making sure we have opportunity for future generations.”

All the same perhaps Mr. Harper might regret telling the House last June that Mr. Wright’s decision to cover Mr. Duffy’s bill had not been communicated to any other member of the Prime Minister’s Office. “Mr. Speaker, on June 5, the Prime Minister said that no one else in his office knew about Nigel Wright’s $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy. Was that true?” Mr. Mulcair asked with his second question.

Mr. Harper pleaded that he had already answered this question and indeed he has, claiming that what he said in June was based on the information he had at the time, a response that, unfortunately, only begs more questions about the basis on which Mr. Harper spoke. “Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Mulcair asked with his fifth opportunity, “how are Canadians supposed to know if the Prime Minister is telling the truth if he does not know himself?”

Mr. Harper hesitated and then responded by suggesting the NDP had offered contradictory accounts of its position on the free trade deal with Europe. “So what are Canadians to believe?” Mr. Harper asked himself. “They are to believe that the only party that is focused on the real needs, focused on the economy and doing things for Canada is this government.”

The Conservatives stood and applauded, the official policy now seeming to be that this matter of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright and perhaps the government’s general ability to explain itself does not (or perhaps should not) amount to a real concern.

Mr. Harper took three questions from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau—”We do not assure Canadians that everything will be perfect, but we do assure Canadians that when anything goes wrong, people will be held accountable,” Mr. Harper told the House—and then Mr. Mulcair returned to his feet and Mr. Harper decided he was mostly done with standing.

The NDP leader asked the Prime Minister to explain the allegation, conveyed by Mr. Duffy’s lawyers, that someone—”we”—was developing “lines” for Mr. Duffy as part of a “scenario” to repay the questionable expenses. Government House leader Peter Van Loan motioned for the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, to stand and take this. The New Democrats were unimpressed. “You want to be the big leader, answer the questions,” David Christopherson shouted across the aisle at the Prime Minister.

Mr. Mulcair, reminding the House that only the Prime Minister could answer these questions and venturing that the public would “severely judge the Prime Minister’s silence,” kept on. Had Nigel Wright been present when the Prime Minister spoke to Mike Duffy on February 13? What was in the binder that Mr. Wright provided to the RCMP? Did the Prime Minister or anyone else in his office threaten Mike Duffy with expulsion from the Senate? Had other senators received similar deals? And what about the audit of Ms. Wallin’s expenses?

Mr. Harper twice shook his head dismissively at the NDP leader’s question and once was compelled to stand and respond—receiving a a mocking ovation from the NDP for doing so—but otherwise remained seated as his parliamentary secretary stood to take seven questions from the leader of the opposition.

***

In the Senate, Ms. Wallin, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Brazeau sat side-by-side-by-side along the back row of the opposition’s side of the chamber, surrounded to their immediate left, right and front by empty chairs.

Around three o’clock, after the Senate had finished with its own Question Period and various procedural matters and voted to co-sign with the House a message of congratulations to the Queen on the occasion of Prince George’s birth, the upper chamber moved to the consideration of Messrs Duffy and Brazeau and Ms. Wallin. Reading from a small stack of paper held in his left hand, Senator Claude Carignan, government leader in the Senate, took an hour to review the cases of the three senators and to explain why the Senate both could and must act to remove the trio from its midst forthwith. The manner and frequency of their errors amounted to “wilful contempt of the institution” and to protect the Senate and preserve the public’s trust, he explained, senators should act. For awhile, the NDP’s Charlie Angus and Pat Martin sat beside each other in the gallery above, like Statler and Waldorf observing the Muppet Show.

Liberal senators, but also Conservative senator Hugh Segal, probed the soundness of Senator Carignan’s argument and then Liberal Senate leader James Cowan took the floor. What the three senators had done was “wrong,” Cowan said. He had, he would say, “no sympathy” for them. But the three senators were entitled to due process, and this was not due process. Cowan recalled how Winston Churchill had, during the blitz, described parliamentary customs and traditions as “the splendour of our moral and political inheritance.” “If Churchill could be determined to uphold our parliamentary ‘moral and political inheritance’ while bombs were falling, surely the challenges we face today merit nothing less,” Senator Cowan declared. “Let’s be very clear:  political bombshells must not be allowed to justify trampling on basic rights under our Canadian system of justice.” Senators Duffy and Wallin applauded.

At half past five, Mike Duffy stood in his spot along the back row in the far left corner and the Speaker gave him the floor.

A lot of questions needed answers, he said, and he would seek now to defend his “good name.” The senator for Prince Edward Island proceed then to scorch the earth, or at least to singe the carpet.

“I allowed myself to be intimidated to do what I knew in my heart was wrong,” he explained.

Glasses perched on the end of his nose, his fists pumping and his left index finger wagging and jabbing, gesturing to individuals on the other side of the chamber, Duffy delivered his remarks with aplomb, seeming here to be a reporter who had found the greatest story of his career.

  • A senator who was told his expense claims were in order by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, a man who had violated no laws and broken no rules, but who was pressured into accepting guilt and allowing that chief of staff to settle his tab under threat of expulsion from the Senate.
  • And now still the Senate was threatening him with suspension.
  • A man who had come to the Senate to make the country a better place, now he worried that he wouldn’t be able to get the heart medication he needs.
  • This was the stuff of Iraq or Iran or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
  • He harkened to the days of Diefenbaker and Trudeau.
  • He named various names. The words “bribery” and “extortion” were uttered.
  • He wished he had the “courage” to refuse to take part in this “monstrous political scheme.”
  • He dismissed the boys in short pants at the PMO and Pat Martin, now seated in the front of the gallery, leaning over the railing on his elbow, smiled.

When Mr. Duffy was finally done, the Liberal senators applauded.

Mr. Brazeau went next and though he could not hope to have matched the performance that preceded him, he gave a good effort, lecturing the Senate on its ethics and standing, speaking emotionally and wagging his finger and demanding due process. “If this is the Harper government’s way of believing in democracy and exercising democracy, I think we should all be very fearful,” he told the Senate. “This is a complete joke, a complete farce. And Stephen Harper, you lost my vote.”

And with that the Senate decided that it had heard enough for the day and voted to adjourn.

Advertisements

One thought on “October 22nd, 2013. Harper Government Falls

  1. WHAT DUFFY SAID:

    Following are the speaking notes for Sen. Mike Duffy’s address to the Senate Tuesday evening:

    Honourable Senators,

    I rise today against the orders of my doctors who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress.

    However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong, out of a fear of losing my job, and a misguided sense of loyalty.

    Much has been made of the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright.

    I hope I’ll be able to give an explanation of the chain of events, and the circumstances surrounding that gift, without impinging on the rights of others to a fair trial should criminal proceedings follow.

    Let me summarize it this way:

    Dec. 3rd, 2012, The Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking how I could claim expenses for my house in Kanata, when I had owned the home before I was appointed to the Senate? The inference was clear. I was doing something wrong.

    I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and explained that I was doing nothing improper.

    Nigel Wright emailed me back, saying he’d had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order. That all was in compliance with Senate rules.

    In fact he said there were several other Senators in the same situation, and that this was a smear.

    Following the PMO’s advice, I ignored the media.

    But the attacks from Postmedia continued, and the political heat escalated.

    So after caucus on Feb. 13th I met the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright.

    Just the three of us.

    I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules.

    But the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth.

    It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media.

    The rules are inexplicable to our base.

    I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others.

    It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the Prime Minister – to “pay the money back!” End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout.

    Just the 3 of us.

    The next week, while I was at home in PEI, I had a series of discussions with Nigel Wright.

    I said I didn’t believe I had broken the rules, and that to repay would be an admission of guilt.

    Canadians know me as an honest guy. To pay back money I didn’t owe, would destroy my reputation.

    The PMO piled on the pressure.

    Some honourable Senators called me in PEI; – one Senator, and he knows who he is, left several particularly nasty, menacing messages. Do what the Prime Minister wants! “Do it for the PM and for the good of the party.”

    I continued to resist. Finally the message from the PMO became “do what we want or else.” And what was the “else?”

    I was told the Conservative majority on the steering committee of the Board of Internal Economy – Senators Tkachuk and Stewart-Olson, would issue a press release declaring me unqualified to sit in the Senate.

    However, if you do what we want, the Prime Minister will publicly confirm you are entitled to sit as a Senator from PEI, and you won’t lose your seat.

    They have no power to do that!

    Agree to what we want right now, or else.

    I made one last effort to dissuade the PMO and save my good name.

    I don’t believe I owe anything, and besides which I don’t have $90,000!

    Don’t worry, Nigel said, I will write the cheque.

    Let the lawyers handle the details, you just follow the plan, and we’ll keep Carolyn Stewart-Olson and David Tkachuk at bay.

    There were elaborate undertakings which were negotiated among the several lawyers involved who were taking instructions from their clients. Lawyers for the PMO, for the Conservative Party and me.

    There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte – that I would get a pass;

    and further that if this phoney scheme ever became public, Senator LeBreton, the government leader of the day would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber.

    PMO officials said it wasn’t easy to get this commitment from Senators LeBreton, Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen.

    The e-mail chain shows it took hours of shuttling back and forth as the lawyers checked with their principals about the guarantees they would give to ensure I wasn’t censured for going along with this PMO scheme.

    Given all of these emails you can imagine my shock when I heard there was not a single document about these negotiations to be found in the PMO. That’s right; in response to an Access to Information request, CBC was told there is not a single document in the PMO related to this matter.

    Well, if they’re not in the PMO, they are in the hands of my lawyers, and apparently in the hands of police.

    Why not release these documents now?

    Because the people involved have rights, which under our system must be protected.

    Are the police looking at possible criminal charges? Bribery, threats and extortion of a sitting legislator?

    This is serious stuff and the people who were involved – more than those mentioned here today, deserve to have their rights protected. It’s the Canadian way.

    It will all come out in due course, when all of the players are under oath and the email chain can be seen in its entirety.

    In the interim, Deloitte reported to the Board of Internal Economy.

    After combing my living expense claims, my travel claims, Senate air travel, my cell phone records and Senate Amex; Deloitte found I had not violated the Senate rules.

    Then in May, after someone leaked selected excerpts of a confidential email I had sent to my lawyer voicing my concern about the deal, the PMO was back with a vengeance.

    I was called at home in Cavendish by Ray Novak, senior aide to Prime Minister Harper. He had with him Senator LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate.

    Senator LeBreton was emphatic. The deal was off.

    If I didn’t resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes, I would be thrown out of the caucus immediately. Without a meeting – without a vote. In addition she said if I didn’t quit the caucus immediately, I would be sent to the ethics committee with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate.

    With Ray Novak and my wife and sister listening, Senator LeBreton was insistent “You’ve got to do this Mike, do what I’m telling you, quit the caucus within the next 90 minutes! It is the only way to save your pay cheque.”

    I understand that caucus disputes are internal, and not a matter for the Senate.

    However when one’s status as a Senator is repeatedly threatened, I believe this amounts to an attack on my independence as a Senator, and is criminal, or at the very least a serious violation of my privileges.

    Colleagues, like you, this kind of politics is NOT why I came to the Senate of Canada. It is not millions of Canadians vote for the Conservative Party.

    I want to continue my hard work for the Island, and I can only do that if you follow due process.

    Honourable Senators, this particular motion, should it pass, will be a serious violation of my human rights – including the most fundamental right of all – to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

    That’s a basic right in our democracy – in the words of the Bill of Rights Act of 1960, one of great Tory accomplishments in my lifetime, and in my view, John Diefenbaker’s most important legacy, we are all entitled to “Fundamental Justice.”

    This motion is in direct conflict with any sense of “fundamental justice.”

    I remind honourable Senators, that right to fundamental justice was further enshrined in Mr. Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

    I have done nothing wrong, violated no laws, and worked very hard to fulfil my duties as a Senator from my beloved Prince Edward Island.

    Let me repeat: Deloitte investigated. And their audit of expenses related to my home on PEI, did not find wrongdoing. They said I had not broken Senate rules.

    It was the 15 members of the Senate’s Board of Internal Economy who refused to accept the determination of the independent auditors at Deloitte. Why, I still don’t understand.

    And those same Senators sit in judgement of me today?

    Let me be clear: I violated no laws, I followed rules as they then were. And I never received a single note from Senate Finance or the leadership that suggested there was anything amiss.

    Serving in this Chamber has been, I repeat, the greatest public/professional honour I have ever had – why would I want to subvert it or discredit in any way? I did not and I do not.

    Needless to say, I agree strongly with the remarks made on the weekend by Senator Segal—this motion is something one might expect to see in Iraq, or Iran or in Vladimir Putin’s Russia – not in democratic Canada.

    It is not, I repeat, It is not fundamental justice. Mr. Diefenbaker, and Mr. Trudeau, were they here today, would be mortified.

    I urge you to defeat these motions and preserve our democratic, free and just Canada.

    Hon. senators, my friends and especially my former colleagues; today you are facing the same choice I did back in February.

    Be a team player and go along with the PMO and the senate leadership?

    Or stand up, and do your constitutional duty.

    I fervently wish I had had the courage to say NO back in February when this monstrous political stunt was first proposed.

    Today you have an opportunity to stand strong, and use your power to restrain the unaccountable power of the PMO.

    I urge you to say no to these outrageous motions. Tell the whips, my oath as a Senator is to put Canada first, and that comes before my loyalty to my party or leader.

    Canadians are watching.

    Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
    THANK YOU, MR. DUFFY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s