Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright
It all began innocently enough – rumors in the spring of 2013 that perhaps a senator or two were exaggerating their expense accounts. But certainly it was nothing serious. So we were told.
But soon it was more than one senator, in fact several senators, and it went back to February 2013.
And the Stephen Harper government was being very mysterious as if there was something serious to hide.
Then it came out that the prime minister’s office was linked somehow to a major scandal, and then that maybe Harper’s assistants had tried to cover it up. And the question became how much did Harper himself know?
And soon we were in a full-blown crisis that had all the makings of a major scandal and the RCMP was investigating.
This was after all a Conservative government that was elected on the strength of the Liberals’ sponsorship scandal, and now here these Conservatives were knee-deep, perhaps even up to their ears, in the same sort of thing that brought down the Liberals in 2006.
The question was about whether Mike Duffy would pay back $32,000 in unjustified Senate expense claims – some wild expenses claimed for an Ottawa home that wasn’t just his temporary lodging, expenses claimed on election campaign trips to help Conservatives, and even his Ottawa grocery bills.
It all smelled so bad, and the RCMP was having trouble getting documents from the prime minister’s office. And Prime Minister Harper kept talking about one or maybe two people in his office in on the scam, but everybody knew there was a lot more, maybe as many as 10 or 12 involved. So why didn’t Harper know?
The $32,000 owing became $90,000 and the Conservative Party was no longer willing to pay Duffy’s tab.
And then the strangest thing had happened. The prime minister’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, paid Duffy’s $92,000 bill. Wright was not Duffy's friend. So why the fabrication about Duffy and Wright being friends?
And why would the prime minister’s chief of staff, without telling the prime minister, pay off Duffy’s Senate debts?
Why not just tell Duffy to pay back the money on his own if he didn’t want cops on his doorstep? Let’s say Duffy would pay $30,000 a year out of his $134,400 a year Senate salary. Three years at 30 000 $ wouldn’t kill him.
After all, another senator scammer, Conservative Patrick Brazeau had his salary garnisheed to pay back Senate expense money that he owed.
And if Duffy refused to pay out of his own pocket, the prime minister could call in the cops.
Why not get tough with Duffy? Did Duffy have something on Harper? Did Harper think Duffy had something on him? Was that it?
The prime minister said Wright was an honorable man, full of integrity, a fellow he respected. And then five days later he fired him without so much as a thank you and Harper has been bad-mouthing Wright ever since. Why the sudden switch from hero to zero?
Harper tried to duck the scandal instead of facing up to it. He even took off for South America and then went on a summer vacation which he extended by a month, and then he adjourned Parliament, and then he came up with a warmed-over speech from the Throne.
At first the people in Harper’s office kept saying they couldn’t find the e-mails they had been sending to each other for months about the Duffy scandal, and meanwhile Harper kept saying the cops had all the documents, and then mysteriously the Harper people had found all the documents the cops wanted and soon afterwards everybody in the world knew about the documents and then we were into the fall session and the crisis just kept on going.
Call it the crisis that never ends.
Now we’ve adjourned for Christmas and Parliament won’t resume until January 27 and the crisis continues and there are more e-mails and documents yet to come out and eventually the RCMP may charge someone with a criminal offense.
Duffy keeps saying the whole thing was “a monstrous fraud” concocted in the prime minister’s office to get rid of an embarrassing political mess that threatened the party’s electoral base.
And the whole mess goes into its second year after January 27 and could end up taking over Parliament once again until the next election.