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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


 


Mike Duffy has pleaded "not guilty" to 31 charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in relation to expenses he filed as a Senator from PEI. But while Mr. Duffy may be on trial in the Ottawa courtroom, critics say it is the Prime Minister who is really on trial — in the court of public opinion.

 

Marit Stiles:

Well, the trial of Mike Duffy has begun, and conveniently the House isn't sitting, the Prime Minister is ... somewhere, and all eyes are turned to the court as the whole nation turns our attention to the circus that is the Senate. Does that make Mike Duffy the clown, the thrower of flames, the contortionist, or a bit of all that?

In any case, the big question is whether there will be fallout for PM Harper and the Conservatives, and will this impact the federal election.

To answer that question, let's reflect for a moment on Stephen Harper's first federal election win back in 2006.

Harper ran on a platform of accountability, of transparency. There was no big vision, nothing terribly grand. He was elected in large part because he and his party promised to clean up the ethically questionable approach to governance of the previous Liberal governments, and particularly the sponsorship scandal.

And that is what Harper will be reminded of every single day. The guy who was elected back then has become the PM whose hand-picked Senator is accused of corruption, and his hand-picked staff are being hauled into court to determine their role.

At the end of the day, we know that Canadians care about accountability. All the tax handouts and budget delays won't prevent what's coming: the Senate and the PM's own office under the microscope. Not only his government but also the whole Senate will be held to account in the next election. An unelected, undemocratic body that is completely disconnected from the reality of most Canadians. Against a party and leader in Mulcair with a principled plan to abolish the Senate.

 

Bernie Farber:

I am no fan of the Senate but do wonder that if there were a substantial number of NDP senators, Marit would be as concerned. That said, this is indeed a circus with the potential for exploding in the face of this government. Most casual observers, including this scribe, believe there is more here than meets the eye.

Here are the questions many are asking.

If it was not okay for Duffy to receive a $90, 000 payment from then Harper Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, why was Duffy charged but not Wright? What exactly did Harper know about the Wright payoff? What did Harper know about any of this, and why would his senior and most trusted advisors choose to tell him nothing?

Marit is quite right in her assessment. You cannot point accusatory fingers of scandal as Harper did in 2006 and expect not to have those fingers now point right back at you.

This is a political soap opera that very well may harm the entire Conservative party. Canadians care about honesty and ethics and will punish governments who forget this rule.


John Capobianco:

I love Marit's circus analogythis court case and the media frenzy surrounding it have certainly given many Canadians that perspective. Of course Senator Duffy has also helped to create such a perspective with his earlier statements in the Chamber and since. However, all the posturing and speculation by everyone will now finally be overshadowed by the court proceedings - mercifully!

The reality here is that this case is about the alleged fraud Senator Duffy has been charged with — in fact, 31 charges against the Senator regarding his expense claims and one charge on bribery and awarding of a consulting contract. All to be proven or not in a court of law.

My opposition friends will have you believe that this is about the PM and the Conservative Party. The reality is that this is about the Senate and whether or not there are systematic challenges and failings in how the Red Chamber functions.

The fact that dozens of other Senators have also been charged, including a Liberal Senator, and are currently being investigated or questioned about their expenses tells me that there is something seriously wrong with the Senate.

We will see what comes from this court case and what, if anything, is determined to be a result of personal failings, or larger, systematic Senate functional failings.

 

Marit Stiles:

Bernie, I love it when Liberals question whether — if New Democrats had Senators — we would still want to abolish the Senate.

Here's the thing: it's time to rise above self-interest. We would, and if elected to government, we will. And that's because it's the right thing to do.

John is right that this court battle will ultimately be about bigger things than Mr. Duffy's alleged fraud and even Mr. Wright's involvement or the Prime Minister's own knowledge. It is unfortunate that the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister didn't deep-six it when they had a chance. Their criticisms of the Senate ring hollow when you look at how they have stacked the Senate so completely with their bag-men/women and political buddies.

You'll hear the Liberals, too, decry the Senate. But they stop short of getting rid of the darn thing. Liberals and Conservatives will tell you it can't be done. But the Supreme Court provided the road map. It's not an easy road, mind you, but Trudeau's move to remove Senators from the Liberal caucus was a thinly veiled attempt to distance himself from responsibility or accountability for the Senate. It does nothing to solve the problem, which is the fundamental question of whether the Senate should even exist.

At the end of this trial, whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: many more Canadians will be wondering which Party Leader will have the guts and experience to actually get rid of the Senate. And there's only one Leader who has the guts, experience, and is willing to make the tough call and do the hard work to follow through on that. Trudeau simply doesn't and won’t, and Harper ... well, his platform and accountability on this file are toast.


Bernie Farber:

I fundamentally disagree with Marit. Trudeau’s decision to remove the Liberal Senators from the caucus was a courageous, historic stroke. It’s easy for the NDP to question motives but the truth here is that leaders lead, and Trudeau took an action that no other political Leader in Canadian history has ever done. He should be applauded for it, not condemned.

I do agree with John. This is a criminal trial about fraud. However a criminal trial, especially when it concerns so many politicians, political staff and other politicos, can and probably will have a devastating effect when all is said and done.

The political blowback from the trial will be as important as anything else. If in fact it is proven that Duffy acted in a fraudulent manner, then ordinary citizens cannot help but wonder, “What did the Prime Minister know?”

Mike Duffy was a Conservative superstar, so much so that at first the PM and others looked for ways to protect him even to the point of paying off his debts, first from the party itself, and when that became too much, and Wright cut a personal cheque.

Is it reasonable to believe that Harper, the master of control, knew nothing of this?

In the end, yes, this is about the workings of the Senate and its potential viability. However it is also a very human drama where careers and reputations can be ruined forever. We can never lose sight of that.

 

John Capobianco:

Be clear on this, Mr. Trudeau's move to "remove" Liberal Senators from caucus was exactly as Marit suggest — a move to distance himself from the charges laid against one Liberal senator who has since resigned from the Senate. He suspected were more charges to come.

However, what is more frustrating is that Mr. Trudeau was part of a caucus prior to being leader, when his party fought the PM's moves to reform the Senate.

The PM has always been clear with his desire to reform the Senate, even going as far as appointing senators who were duly elected by provinces. Alberta did in fact elect senators, who were then appointed to the Chamber by this PM.

The NDP has been clear in its position on the Senate, but like every other issue, the Liberals have many positions and one may even be supported by some Canadians, depending on the day and what the weather is like outside.

Look, this will consume the media for as long as the trial goes on, but Canadians have heard all this before and quite frankly may very well be tired of it. They worry - rightly, about the economy, jobs and their safety at home and abroad. The only leader who can responsibly deal with these issues is Stephen Harper.

Mike Duffy has pleaded "not guilty" to 31 
charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust 
in relation to expenses he filed as a Senator 
from PEI. But while Mr. Duffy may be on trial 
in the Ottawa courtroom, critics say it is the 
Prime Minister who is really on trial — in the 
court of public opinion.
Marit Stiles:
Well, the trial of Mike Duffy has begun, and 
conveniently the House isn't sitting, the Prime 
Minister is ... somewhere, and all eyes are 
turned to the court as the whole nation turns our 
attention to the circus that is the Senate. Does 
that make Mike Duffy the clown, the thrower of 
flames, the contortionist, or a bit of all that?
In any case, the big question is whether there 
will be fallout for PM Harper and the 
Conservatives, and will this impact the federal 
election. 
To answer that question, let's reflect for a 
moment on Stephen Harper's first federal 
election win back in 2006. 
Harper ran on a platform of accountability, of 
transparency. There was no big vision, nothing 
terribly grand. He was elected in large part 
because he and his party promised to clean up 
the ethically questionable approach to 
governance of the previous Liberal 
governments, and particularly the sponsorship 
scandal.
 
And that is what Harper will be reminded of 
every single day. The guy who was elected back 
then has become the PM whose hand-picked 
Senator is accused of corruption, and his hand-
picked staff are being hauled into court to 
determine their role.
At the end of the day, we know that Canadians 
care about accountability. All the tax handouts 
and budget delays won't prevent what's coming: 
the Senate and the PM's own office under the 
microscope. Not only his government but also 
the whole Senate will be held to account in the 
next election. An unelected, undemocratic body 
that is completely disconnected from the reality 
of most Canadians. Against a party and leader 
in Mulcair with a principled plan to abolish the 
Senate.
Bernie Farber: 
I am no fan of the Senate but do wonder that if 
there were a substantial number of NDP 
senators, Marit would be as concerned. That 
said, this is indeed a circus with the potential for 
exploding in the face of this government. Most 
casual observers, including this scribe, believe 
there is more here than meets the eye.
Here are the questions many are asking. 
If it was not okay for Duffy to receive a $90, 000 
payment from then Harper Chief of Staff, Nigel 
Wright, why was Duffy charged but not Wright? 
What exactly did Harper know about the Wright 
payoff? What did Harper know about any of this, 
and why would his senior and most trusted 
advisors choose to tell him nothing?
Marit is quite right in her assessment. You 
cannot point accusatory fingers of scandal as 
Harper did in 2006 and expect not to have those 
fingers now point right back at you.
This is a political soap opera that very well may 
harm the entire Conservative party. Canadians 
care about honesty and ethics and will punish 
governments who forget this rule.
John Capobianco: 
I love Marit's circus analogy—this court case 
and the media frenzy surrounding it have 
certainly given many Canadians that 
perspective. Of course Senator Duffy has also 
helped to create such a perspective with his 
earlier statements in the Chamber and since. 
However, all the posturing and speculation by 
everyone will now finally be overshadowed by 
the court proceedings - mercifully! 
The reality here is that this case is about the 
alleged fraud Senator Duffy has been charged 
with — in fact, 31 charges against the Senator 
regarding his expense claims and one charge on 
bribery and awarding of a consulting contract. All 
to be proven or not in a court of law.
My opposition friends will have you believe that 
this is about the PM and the Conservative Party. 
The reality is that this is about the Senate and 
whether or not there are systematic challenges 
and failings in how the Red Chamber functions.
The fact that dozens of other Senators have also 
been charged, including a Liberal Senator, and 
are currently being investigated or questioned 
about their expenses tells me that there is 
something seriously wrong with the Senate.
We will see what comes from this court case 
and what, if anything, is determined to be a 
result of personal failings, or larger, systematic 
Senate functional failings.
Marit Stiles: 
Bernie, I love it when Liberals question whether 
— if New Democrats had Senators — we would 
still want to abolish the Senate.
Here's the thing: it's time to rise above self-
interest. We would, and if elected to 
government, we will. And that's because it's the 
right thing to do. 
John is right that this court battle will ultimately 
be about bigger things than Mr. Duffy's alleged 
fraud and even Mr. Wright's involvement or the 
Prime Minister's own knowledge. It is 
unfortunate that the Conservative Party and the 
Prime Minister didn't deep-six it when they had a 
chance.

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : April 08, 2015

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