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(For The Globe and Mail)
(For The Globe and Mail)

SENATE SCANDAL

The integrity issue is reaching critical mass Add to ...

There’s some who still hold to the line. Ethical abuses? No big deal. The people don’t care. It won’t hurt the Harper Conservatives much.

These people should try telling the Liberals that they weren’t damaged by the sponsorship scandal or Brian Mulroney that he wasn’t hurt by the Karlheinz Schreiber affair or John Turner that he wasn’t set back by Pierre Trudeau’s barrage of 11th-hour patronage appointments. They should try telling historians that Lester Pearson wasn’t hurt by the scandals involving his Quebec ministers or that the Louis St. Laurent government didn’t suffer on account of invoking closure in the pipeline debate.

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It seems that Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, lacked an understanding of this. When he signed on two-plus years ago, some of us thought he might be able to bring a measure of integrity to Stephen Harper’s government. Instead, Mr. Wright got dragged down into the moral quagmire himself.

It’s said his resignation represents a big loss for the Conservatives. Does it? The party has lost ground, according to the polls, since the last election. The government is frequently criticized as directionless. There’s been unprecedented stonewalling and secrecy. And now Duffygate.

Some of us have suspected all along that the issue of character is Mr. Harper’s fatal flaw. On Monday, an old Brian Mulroney colleague was on the blower, recalling that Mr. Harper had appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate Mr. Mulroney’s dealings with Mr. Schreiber because the matter involved “the integrity of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The old Mulroney hand, who should recall that Mr. Mulroney himself wanted an inquiry, was wondering whether Mr. Harper might now apply the same standards to his own office. He cited the careful wording of Mr. Wright’s resignation letter: “I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid.” Doesn’t that suggest the PM knew they were repaid, only not how. And would he not have bothered, on such a sensitive matter, to ask?

It’s remarkable what this government thinks it can get away with. The Canadian Press is reporting that Team Harper is buying ads on the taxpayer dime to promote a job grant program that doesn’t yet exist. The ads began running in prime-time slots this week. Peter Van Loan, the government House Leader, described the Canada Jobs Grant program as a “proposal that needs to be fleshed out and developed fully.” Thus far, it hasn’t even got the approval of the provinces. Yet, our money is being used to advertise it.

Last week, The Globe and Mail revealed the Conservatives withheld tens of thousands of documents it was obligated to disclose as part of a human-rights case in which it’s accused of discriminating against indigenous children. Now, according to The Globe, the government is using its failure to hand over the files to try to get the proceedings put on hold.

We’ve learned the Tories can’t account for $3-billion from the security and anti-terrorism budget. Before this, before their attacks ads, we saw the Speaker of the Commons, himself a Tory, issuing a ruling that, in effect, repudiated Mr. Harper’s gagging of his own MPs. One wonders where Nigel Wright was on some of these abuses. Maybe he tried to do something but was rebuffed.

Matters such as the Duffy scandal can be looked at in isolation and you can say, well, it’s only about spending excesses by a senator, so let’s keep it in perspective. But the problem is, in fact, the perspective – a perspective that sees abuse of power so widespread you can no longer keep track.

Mr. Harper and his band might be able to make people forget about the Senate scandal, and other affronts to the integrity of the system. But there’s simply too much out there for this government to escape the reckoning – a dire one.

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