Harper’s Senate: A case of “do as I say, not as I do”

This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian – JG.

“For Harper, famous for micro-managing everything in his government, to claim he didn’t know or was unaware of a deal by his Chief of Staff to pay Duffy’s improperly claimed housing allowance, is totally beyond belief. If this was truly the case, then it would mean that he was completely clueless as to what his most trusted aides and staff were and are up to…”

By Mihael Willman

Alongside the Dalton McGuinty Liberals’ eHealth and ORNGE scandal, as well as the wasted hundreds of millions for closing two power plants to save two Liberal seats, and the Chretien government’s Sponsorship scandal, the Duffy-Wallin & Company Senate scandal is small potatoes. And if the only thing Canadians were concerned about was the amount of money involved, many would probably dismiss the present Senate circus as unimportant. But the issue here is not so much the money improperly appropriated by Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau. The issue is that Harper’s promise to change the way things were done in Ottawa has been proven to be nothing but more broken political promises.

The first words of the 2006 Conservative Party election platform said what voters wanted to hear. “People who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules want accountability from their political leaders. We don’t expect politicians to be perfect. But we do want to know that our tax dollars – money we’ve worked for – are being spent properly and wisely. Above all, we want and expect our dollars to be spent legally.”

On the second day of the 2006 election campaign Harper promised “I invite you to look forward to… a bold future where people are held responsible for their actions.” He continued: “Conservatives believe as a basic principle that politicians should not be accountable to other politicians, that government should not be accountable to itself.”

“There’s going to be a new code on Parliament Hill: bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison,” he warned.

It was a good promise which Conservative Party supporters took to heart. Now that several senators have been found with their sticky fingers in the cookie jar, three of them Harper appointees, the promise to punish and charge miscreants appears to have flown out the window. Instead, Harper spent a long time defending Pamela Wallin (saying her travel expenses were comparable to that of MPs from that part of the country). No words of censure, criticism, or the like, or any statement to the effect that the matter would be looked into. Nothing of the sort. Just unquestioning support for several weeks, probably in the hope that the issue would simply go away of its own accord. When it didn’t, Wallin was gently, but most likely forceably, pushed out of the Conservative caucus. And now that she sits as an independent, her transgressions are no longer deemed to be an issue for Harper’s Conservatives.

With regards to Duffy, both Harper and the Senate have gone out of their way to protect and defend his actions. When Duffy announced that the controversy surrounding his housing allowance claims had “become a major distraction” and as a result he and his wife had decided to “voluntarily pay back my living expenses related to the house we have in Ottawa,” Conservatives on Parliament Hill loudly praised him for showing “leadership.” Could a pronouncement of sainthood be far behind?

For a while matters settled down, as external auditors continued to investigate senators claiming housing expenses, to determine whether they were legitimate or not. However, having repaid $90,172 in March, Duffy informed the external auditors that his participation was no longer required and refused to provide the financial records which they had asked for. Clearly he felt that repayment made further investigation into his claims no longer relevent or necessary. However, within weeks it became apparent that his much-vaunted “leadership” was nothing but a sham. Rather than taking out a bank loan to repay his housing claims, as Duffy claimed he had done, the $90,172 had actually come from Nigel Wright, Harper’s chief of staff. While many Canadians learned about this payment on CTV News, Harper maintained that he knew nothing about the cheque until May 15, a day or so after it became public knowledge.

For Harper, famous for micro-managing everything in his government, to claim he didn’t know or was unaware of a deal by his Chief of Staff to pay Duffy’s improperly claimed housing allowance, is totally beyond belief. If this was truly the case, then it would mean that he was completely clueless as to what his most trusted aides and staff were and are up to. And there is hardly any Canadian who can imagine such a scenario.

Mr. Harper, you can’t do or appear to do in government what you would have objected to or criticized while in opposition. If you do, you lose all right to claim the moral highground. If Liberal senators under a Liberal government had acted this way, the howls from your party would have been audible all the way from Ottawa to the west coast. Congratulating yourself and claiming that it was your government’s new transparency which deserves credit for allowing the Senate spending scandals to become public, also does not wash with Canadians at large, particularly with the “true Conservatives” who believed your 2006 election promises.

Quite clearly, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is alive and well in Harper’s Ottawa.

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