The Mike Duffy bribery trial has heard the stunning accusation that Stephen Harper's current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak, also knew that Mike Duffy had not paid back his own improper expenses, but rather those had been secretly paid by another Harper staffer, Nigel Wright. Revelations are coming fast and furious that the cover-up is wider than even previously thought, and Prime Minister Harper is being deluged with questions on the campaign trail. Can he change the channel on time to save his party? Paul Ferreira, Richard Mahoney and John Capobianco dissect the effects on the campaign.
I think the past week will go down as the longest of Stephen Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister. Despite his best efforts to change the channel with daily policy promises and even a declaration of war on drugs, he can’t escape the long reach of Duffy-gate. His saving grace, perhaps, is that the electorate, by and large, is still focused on summer vacation. But that will change.
And you can bet the farm that the opposition parties will spend the next 60-odd days continuing to hammer away on this issue and reminding voters of the scandal. It really puts a huge dent on anything the Prime Minister might say on “accountability” and “integrity” during his almost 10 years in office. It also feeds that real desire for change that seems to exist out there.
The real question is whether this becomes the defining issue of the campaign. There’s still a long way to go, but in terms of early impact on the dynamics of the race, it’s not looking good for Stephen Harper. And I don’t think there’s much he can do to make it go away.
As much as the media and the opposition parties would like to think this is a "major election issue," it is not. It isn't for the main reason that Canadians quite rightly view the economy as a major issue, followed by security as a close second. What is happening in an Ottawa court house with a PMO staffer, albeit a senior staffer, is not getting the traction that the opposition is looking for and the media desire.
Yes, the coverage is significant by media standards but as Paul rightly suggests, many Canadians are enjoying some time off and not registering. The "smoking gun" scenario, where some felt that the famous "good to go" notation in Nigel's e-mail was actually the PM knowing of the $90,000 Nigel Wright gave to Senator Duffy, never materialized. So now the media and opposition have to find something else to go after.
Enter Ray Novak, another senior staffer in the PMO. Did he tell or did he not tell is all the rage now. Really? No wonder not many are paying attention. I suspect once Nigel finishes his testimony, this too shall pass.
The scandal enveloping the Prime Minister has echoes of past scandals that have dogged and defeated some estimable politicians. Many will remember the slow drip of the sponsorship scandal that engulfed and ultimately defeated Prime Minister Paul Martin. (I certainly remember it, having been a candidate for office at the time!) While Judge Gomery completely exonerated Paul Martin on any involvement in the scandal, Stephen Harper argued at the time that that was not good enough and that Martin needed to be forthcoming.
This after a lengthy public inquiry examined everyone involved.
Here is what he said then, in an interview with Peter Mansbridge:
In the case at hand, Harper has not called an inquiry, he and his office have apparently misled the public, and he has held no one accountable. Wright resigned, or at least that is what Stephen Harper told us at the time. When asked about the apparent cover-up, he refuses to answer the questions, saying only he disagrees with their premise, or rejects the facts. I will say one thing — he will not be able to recover and get back on a normal campaign until he answers those questions and takes responsibility. Then, and only then, will he be able to move on.
My friend John is doing his utmost to try and wish Duffy-gate away. Sorry John, it isn’t going away. The media and the opposition sense blood in the water. This will feature prominently until Election Day and it very much hits at Conservative credibility.
What’s most surprising to me though (and there’s hindsight in this) is that the Prime Minister could have legitimately manipulated the election timing and gone to the polls before the Duffy trial even started. He had ample reasons to move up the campaign: the sputtering economy, the decline of oil prices and the resulting economic impact, the threat to national security from terrorism (perceived or real) ... all valid, compelling reasons to have hit the hustings early.
Yet, the PM decided to stick to the fall for reasons only he knows. For an allegedly brilliant political strategist, that might turn out to be the biggest tactical mistake Stephen Harper has ever made. Especially if it’s the last one he makes as Prime Minister.
Richard, this is not the sponsorship scandal, as much as the Liberals want to portray it that way. Not even close. The sponsorship scandal was a systemic problem within the Liberal Party, which funnelled cash to benefit the Liberal Party directly. Yes, what took place with Senator Duffy and his alleged misappropriation of his expenses and the offer by Nigel Wright to pay what was supposed to have been owed by Senator Duffy to Canadian taxpayers was also wrong.
Both men are in court of law dealing with these issues as we speak. And it will be in the court of law where Senator Duffy will be found guilty or not of his alleged crimes. Nigel is one of many witnesses asked to testify and given his role and his stature, is getting the most attention — fair enough. Trying and link this to the PM as the opposition parties are trying to do is political — again, fair enough. However, trying to make this an election issue solely on its own as the Liberals and NDP are is to do so at their own peril. Richard will remember what happened when Michael Ignatieff tried to make democratic reform a campaign issue ...
As it is often quoted: "It's the economy stupid". That is what the PM is going to continue to make this election about - the economy.
John, as is often the case, the cover up is worse than the crime. That was the case in Watergate, and it is clearly the case here. The most damaging thing to Stephen Harper about all of this is not just that he appointed/hired all of the people involved. It is not that Mike Duffy used Senate resources inappropriately while doing Stephen Harper's bidding raising money for him. It is not even the expenses themselves, as troubling as they are. It is that we now know, as a matter of fact, that the Prime Minister's staff went to extraordinary lengths to deceive the public. Stephen Harper said only Nigel Wright knew. They continue to maintain no one else knew of the Wright/Duffy payment, even though we have documented evidence to the contrary.
Mr. Harper's bizarrre attempts to say this scandal involved only two people, Wright and Duffy, are more attempts to deceive. It is as if he believes that if he keeps stating it, it will be so.
Sometimes you have to admit you are wrong, and have done wrong, in order to be taken seriously on anything you say. Otherwise, why would anyone believe them on anything else, on an election commitment, or even a core value?
There is hubris here, and it appears to be mighty. I wonder whether Harper will have the wisdom and courage to be open and transparent, just as he demanded of Paul Martin. If he doesn't, it is hard to foresee any scenario in which he is granted the public trust again.