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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, Paul Ferreira and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Stephen Harper's former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright takes the stand at the Mike Duffy bribery trial. He's expected to be asked about whether Mr. Harper knew about a $90,000 payment Wright made to pay off expenses Duffy allegedly charged improperly as a Senator. Bernie Farber, John Capobianco and Paul Ferreira debate the Wright testimony's possible effect on Mr. Harper's re-election chances.


Bernie Farber:

For any John Grisham fans out there this would be the part of the story where the lawyers have their go at the witness that can turn the tables.

For those who know Nigel Wright, he has a reputation for dignity and honesty to a fault. We know all the lurid details but there are pages missing especially around what the Prime Minister may or may not have known.

The $90.000 payout for Mike Duffy's expenses by Mr. Wright seems almost inconceivable without some prior knowledge by the PM. Wright seems like the kind of conscientious manager who would have obtained final sign off by his boss. Then again his dedication and loyalty to the PM may supersede everything.

This is the smoking gun.

If in fact Wright's testimony ties the PM to the payout, Mr. Harper may quite frankly have to resign. Its dangerous territory and all must be holding their collective breath.


Paul Ferreira:

I’m actually not expecting much new in the way of revelations. Mr. Wright is obviously a capable and competent individual. I think we’d all agree on that. You don’t just become Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister without have the capacity to do the job.  Mr. Wright will also, I’m certain, go to great lengths to try and protect the Prime Minister with whatever testimony he does provide.

But what he can’t cover is this Prime Minister’s repeatedly lousy judgement when it comes to how he handled Senate appointments. And that’s the real value here for the opposition. It gives New Democrats and our Liberal friends the opportunity once again to remind the electorate that the PM said he would never appoint Senators. Yet, he did just that. With Mike Duffy, with Pam Wallin, with Patrick Brazeau, with Don Meredith. The list goes on.

It's a reflection of the very poor decisions the PM has made for almost a decade now. And I think it's a significant contributing factor in the public's appetite for change that exists across the country. It's also something the Conservatives can't easily make go away, regardless of how many announcements the PM makes.


John Capobianco:

As both Paul and Bernie have stated, they are salivating at the thought that something, "a smoking gun" kind of moment, will come out of the testimony from Nigel Wright at the Duffy trial.

The fact of the matter is that there will likely not be new information since the opposition parties have had more than their run at the PM over this issue, specifically, and the Senate issue in general.

Also, as much as the Liberals and the NDP will try to make something out of the trial, I think Canadians have had enough of the Duffy affair and, quite frankly, would rather discuss issues that deal with real life issues such as jobs, the economy and their safety. All issues that the PM is campaigning on and will be campaigning on until October 19th.

The Senate debate has been going on for a long time and the PM has tried on a number of occasions either in the House or through courts to deal with it. It's interesting, though, that every time he has proposed amendments to the Senate, the Liberals have always rejected his ideas until it was convenient for them to do something with the Senate.


Bernie Farber:

John, there is a big difference between the House with its scripted Q&A and a court of law. There is also the little matter of Wright not having to face any real questions yet under oath at that!

And to Paul and John, I’m not so sure there will be no information. Duffy’s defence counsel is Don Bayne, a tiger in the courtroom and one of the most effective “cross-examiners” in the country. He has promised “new revelations” and it is this Wright testimony he has pointed to time and again.

And yes I do agree with John to an extent that the electorate is looking for real answers on issues that affect us all in the pocket book and in our hearts. Returning to a democratic society is one for example. That said the voyeur in us all can’t help but to be drawn to this spectacle and it will play out on a national stage with all eyes and ears glued to Wright’s testimony.


Paul Ferreira:

Regardless of what the Prime Minister announces this week and perhaps next, he can’t run away from the Senate stink. And as I pointed out earlier, it’s a sorry reflection on his very poor judgement, which extends far beyond the Senate.

Stephen Harper can run away from this tawdry mess, but he can’t hide from his record. Questionable appointments are just the tip of the iceberg. His government has badly mismanaged the economy. They’ve ignored the real threat of climate change. They’ve diminished our international reputation. They’ve fear-mongered on national security.

Nigel Wright’s testimony may not sink Stephen Harper. But it will serve to remind Canadians that after 10 years in power, Stephen Harper’s time has come and gone.


John Capobianco:

Paul, and to some extent Bernie, always bring up the PM's judgment with respect to his appointments and it is such nonsense. That's evident given that the NDP have never been in power so have never had an option to appoint Senators, but the Liberal have and they appointed many, and some of them didn't turn out so well — did they, Bernie?

I understand the media and the Opposition will try and make the most of the issue — it is their job to do so. Eyes will certainly be on the trial, especially with Wright testifying. However, I don't believe there will be anything that will distract voters from the real issues of this campaign, which are jobs, economic growth and national security — all issues in which the PM has the most experience and the best-proven track record.

As for the trial, it will be what it is and the PM and other leaders are finally talking about reforming the Senate - finally! Nigel Wright is a friend and has been since our days in youth politics — he is incredibly smart and has so much integrity and honesty. He has cooperated all along and will do so at trail. And when it is over, everyone will get back to the real issues facing them in this election.












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