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      "Nixonian" Cover-up by Harper PMO Rightly A Major Election Issue

 

By Susanna Kelley

"Nixonian."

There is nary an epithet that strikes a more chilling fear into a politician and his/her handlers than being called "Nixonian."

The reference to disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon's illegal, sleazy dirty tricks and his ensuing cover-up attempts indicates political practitioning at its worst, and is close to the most base insult that can be levelled against a politician. 

In modern political parlance, being called "Nixonian" rates slightly above slinging the adjective "Hitlerian" at a sitting Prime Minister or President.

But "Nixonian" is a description that's been bandied about more and more in the last week to describe the plotting and carrying out of deliberate acts of deception on the Canadian public by Stephen Harper's Prime Minister's Office - deceptions about who actually paid for $90,000 worth of improper expenses charged by Harper-appointed and now suspended Senator Mike Duffy, an act for which Mr. Duffy is now charged with bribery, and who knew about the payment. (For some inexplicable reason, the man who actually made the secret payment, Nigel Wight, walks free of bribery charges himself.) 

Make no mistake: despite the fact that Mr. Duffy is on trial, it is the PMO's massive efforts to cover-up the payment's origins and lies to the public about them that is the central issue for Canadians. That as well as the fact that Mr. Duffy was a Stephen Harper appointee, along with others under investigation, including Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.   

"Nixonian" is, as a descriptor, not much of a stretch in this case.

The infamous former President and his minions tried to cover-up the illegal break and enter into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate and other clandestine activities. He and his Presidential staff tried every trick in the book to block any investigation. They didn't call him "Tricky Dick" for nothing.

In the current Canadian case under court scrutiny, there are 31 charges of illegality, including three of bribery, that have been laid against Mr. Duffy.

Testimony at his trial shows there was a deliberate campaign, hatched in the Prime Minister's office, to lie to the public about whether that same Senator had paid back the money himself. They told the public he had; in fact, he had not - Mr. Harper's then Chief of Staff Nigel Wright had paid it out of his own pocket, in secret, and he and others in the PMO spent huge amounts of time and effort to explicitly falsify that fact from the Canadian public.

In another bombshell this week, it was revealed police were told, by the PMO's own lawyer, that Mr. Harper's current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak, knew Mr. Wright was paying the $90,000 because he was present when it was discussed. This is the same Mr. Novak who is still the PM's Chief of Staff and is currently travelling and working with the Harper campaign.

PMO staffers, the trial has been told, also tried to control both the Senate's investigation of the matter and an audit by Deloite into Mr. Duffy's expenses - both supposedly independent entities.

There are over 500 e-mails on the matter that have been presented in court.

In other words, the PMO engaged in a massive cover-up that went on for months.

Mr. Harper has faced a barrage of questions from reporters each day of this long campaign about the sorry spectacle - if one can call the 5-question a day limit imposed by Mr. Harper's disingenuously named "media opportunities" a "barrage."

He has no answers for the public, other than that he didn't know at the time that Mr. Duffy hadn't paid the $90,000 back himself.

But Mr. Harper is getting caught up in his own contradictions, much as Mr. Nixon did.

Mr. Harper at first said Mr. Wright resigned when Mr. Harper found out the truth. He praised Mr. Wright publicly at the time.

Months later, with the scandal getting hotter, Mr. Harper switched tracks and said he fired Mr. Wright, and has declared ever since that Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy are the only ones responsible.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau this week called for those involved in the cover-up to be fired.

"Mr. Harper's decision not just to promote and protect the people who seem to have been at the heart of this cover-up, but keep them actively engaged in his campaign, really illustrates that Mr. Harper really doesn't have much respect for either the integrity of the office he holds or respect for the intelligence of Canadians."

But NDP leader Thomas Mulcair aimed even higher, saying it is Mr. Harper himself that should be fired - by voters, on October 19th.

The truth of the matter is that political leaders surround themselves with people who have the same views and the same value systems that they do. The leaders set the tone and those under them quickly understand what is tolerated and what is not tolerated.

So if there were any number of people in the Prime Minister's Office who actively plotted to lie to the public about Mr. Duffy paying the expenses back, you have to think they believed what they were doing was acceptable to the boss.

Otherwise, they would have been outright defying him, and were all doing so while risking being fired by him if he found out. 

The fact that they are still on the payroll on the Harper election campaign even after Mr. Harper knows of their duplicitousness says much about what Mr. Harper thinks of their actions in the Duffy scandal.

And then there's the issue of whether Mr. Harper actually knew about the fact Duffy himself had not made the payment.

Anyone who's been involved in politics or watched it closely knows it is now often simply expected these days of a Chief of Staff to provide "plausible deniability" to his/her leader. 

That means keeping certain facts from the leader on purpose, for the purely political reason that, if needed for protection, the leader will be able to deny ever knowing them.

It's kind of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge thing that often goes on in politics between a Chief of Staff and his/her leader.

So if the top staff but the Prime Minister didn't, it would be logical to suspect that if Mr. Harper wasn't told that Nigel Wright wrote the $90,000 cheque, it was kept from him quite on purpose.

The plot thickens at the Duffy trial, the cover-up is widening and the fires of this scandal are licking at Mr. Harper's heels. 

If he truly didn't know what was going on, why didn't he? And shouldn't he have?

The media has dogged Mr. Harper over the trial as the inconsistencies came under daily scrutiny - as it should.

An important question many are wondering is: will the Fourth Estate continue to ask the burning questions about these things once this part of the trial is over as scheduled at the end of August?

Coincidentally that is just when Canadians are back from summer vacation and many will tune in for the first time to the election campaign.  They may well not know anything about the Duffy trial and its revelations.

There's a tendency for reporters and their editors to stop publishing the facts of a story and its effects once they've told it once unless there is something new to add.

In this case, there is good reason to keep asking these legitimate questions until Mr. Harper gives some satisfactory, real answers (despite the cries of Harper supporters such as the one who called reporters "lying pieces of sh--" for asking him about it on Tuesday.)

Many Canadians, who have still not heard about the details because the trial is happening over the summer break, deserve to be apprised of them.

When it comes to a tale of such purposeful deceit and a deliberate cover-up that reaches right into the highest office in the land, the office of one who holds tremendous power over all Canadians, unfolding as it is just before a federal election, it seems logical that the media have an obligation to keep on probing long after Labour Day in order that Canadians be properly informed about it before they cast their votes. Not to do so would be a dereliction of duty by the media.

Nixonian cover-ups deserve that sort of attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 : August 19, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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