Taking It To The Street

Running Away: Harper And Ford Share 

Political Crisis Strategies

by Susanna Kelley

The silence was deafening.

Since last Thursday, Canadians have been treated to extraordinary displays of how several of our elected leaders handle crises of the political kind.  

In Ottawa, as you will no doubt have heard, Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff Nigel Wright has resigned after the Prime Minister's Office admitted he'd written a $90,000 cheque to cover improper housing expenses claimed by Mr. Harper's Senate appointee, Mike Duffy. 

Afterwards, the PMO - which Mr. Wright was running - told the public Mr. Duffy himself had paid the money back.

Mr. Wright, of course, would have, at the very least, known that to be untrue.

On top of this, CTV's much-respected senior journalist Robert Fife, who broke the story, reports there is a letter of agreement between Wright and Duffy regarding the "gift."

That letter has not been released.

CTV is also reporting that Mr. Harper's former advisor and legal counsel, Benjamin Perrin, worked on the arrangements between Mr. Wright and Senator Duffy.

(When it comes to journalists in Canada, they don't come any better than Mr. Fife. He's been on the Parliament Hill beat for over 30 years, and his sources are second to none.

If Mr. Fife is reporting that there is a letter, one would be hard pressed not to believe him.)

By Monday morning, Tories were spinning that Mr. Wright is a wonderful, selfless person who made a "mistake" by bailing out Mr. Duffy.

That may or may not be, but Mr. Duffy's expense troubles are part of a bigger pattern, with two other Harper-appointed Senators - Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin - under investigation for wrongfully claiming travel and housing expenses.

In Ms. Wallin's case it involves travel expenses of $321,000 over the last three years. These do not include the trips back to her native Saskatchewan, the province she represents.

The Senate is demanding repayment of almost $49,000 from Mr. Brazeau for improperly claimed housing expenses.

The NDP on Monday called for the RCMP to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing regarding the transaction.

The scandal has reached not just into the Senate, but also right into the Prime Minister's Office.

Mr. Wright has said he did not tell Mr. Harper "the particulars" of the $90,000 payment. 

But Liberal MP Ralph Goodale says it "just doesn't wash" that the Prime Minister knew nothing about a scandal that has engulfed his province for months.

Canadians have a right to expect Mr. Harper provide some badly needed answers.

Such as how much did he know about the arrangements between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy?

But where is our Prime Minister?

Mr. Harper spoke to his own caucus today, but refused to answer any questions about the $90,000 cheque, Mr. Wright or Mr. Duffy.

Then, rather than attend Question Period where the elected representatives of Canadians will be asking questions about the Senate scandal, he is circumventing our most important democratic institution by skipping out, leaving the country for a trade mission to South America.

This is the man who dreamed of reforming the Senate to make it more accountable to Canadians.  (His policy would have required that all Senators be elected rather than appointed.)

There are even reports the Tories are thinking of abusing prorogation for the third time in two years - using it to shut down Question Period in the House of Commons, where Mr. Harper is supposed to be accountable to Canadians for one hour each day.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Harper can get away with all this, but it is a political truism that arrogance defeats governments at the ballot box.

The second extraordinary example of how not to handle a political crisis comes from Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

As you will undoubtedly have heard, two different news outlets - the Toronto Star and Gawker - say they've viewed a video tape that they allege shows the mayor of Canada's largest city smoking what they say appears to be crack cocaine.

They say the source of the video was a drug dealer who wants upwards of six figures for the video.

The Toronto Star, thus, was caught between its journalistic policy not to pay for news, and its desire to have the video in order to verify its authenticity.

The Star did not buy the video.

Hardly a shrinking violet normally, His Worship quickly denied the story, attacked the Toronto Star and then ... disappeared.

The latest Ford Nation spin seems to be to question the Star reporters' journalistic ethics for publishing what they saw before complete verification.

The Star undoubtedly rushed a story they'd been sitting on for weeks because of the Gawker piece.  

However, two very experienced investigative journalists who have covered the Mayor for years viewed the video three times and concluded the subject of the video was Mr. Ford. The Star also warned the video itself had not been verified.

From his hiding place, Mr. Ford and his brother Doug cancelled their regular Sunday talk-radio show.

There is, finally, a report out that Mr. Ford will make a statement about the situation.

But Mr. Ford may be in a situation stickier than many people may have realized.

If he does admit to the video's purported contents, he could face criminal charges.

And the longer this goes on, the likelier it is that someone will purchase the video.

That could be a media outlet or one of Mr. Ford's political enemies.

In which case the truth might come out in the end.

Or it could even be purchased by someone from Ford Nation.

In which case it might be deep-sixed, never to be seen again.

There is a very simple solution to all of this.

If Mr. Ford is telling the truth he should sue the Toronto Star.

All the information would then come out.

The video could be subpoenaed. 

If Mr. Ford has been truthful, his denial could be verified.

This would be welcome information.

But in all his fights with the Star, which he refers to as a "pathological liar," Mr. Ford has never sued the paper.

Both Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford seem be using the same political "strategy."

Which seems to be: when the going gets tough, first attack the enemy.

Then run away.

In Mr. Ford's case, the enemy is the Toronto Star, which is, says Mr. Ford, "out to get him" and Gawker, for running the story precipitously.

Canadians and Torontonians have a right to know the truth about both the Stephen Harper/Nigel Wright/Mike Duffy situation and whether Mr. Ford has a crack cocaine abuse problem.

One is in charge of the entire country.

The other is in charge of the country's biggest city and a huge economic driver.

But with the way Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford have handled - or not handled - their respective situations, it would be understandable for Canadians and Torontonians to be disappointed, disillusioned and downright angry.

This is leadership?

You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : May 21, 2013

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