The scandal currently surrounding the Senate is the Canadian Rashomon, with e-mail. Something bad happened and everyone is telling a different and, it appears, entirely self-serving version of his or her role in that event.
No charges have been laid and all the accusations put forward in the RCMP production order unveiled this week are unproved, but the order takes the Senate affair into Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office: Nigel Wright, then Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, is being investigated for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in his dealings, along with Senator Mike Duffy.
Essentially, the allegation is that in writing a $90,000 cheque to Mr. Duffy in exchange for a number of concessions, notably that Mr. Duffy stop talking, Mr. Wright was bribing Mr. Duffy.
Certainly $90,000 is a suspicious sum to be slipped quietly to a sitting legislator, and arguably a violation of the Criminal Code. Although 30 pages into the 51-page Information to Obtain (ITO) – where Mr. Duffy is noted to be storming about and making demands in a tone generally employed only by men who have hostages and want to be met at midnight at an abandoned fairground with a briefcase of unmarked non-sequential bills – that $90,000, had it actually stopped Mr. Duffy from talking, starts to feel like money that would have been well spent.
What, if any, metaphorical hostages Mr. Duffy holds is an unanswered question. Mr. Duffy, just for Mr. Duffy’s sake, seems an odd hill to die on, and yet for a long time Conservatives seemed willing to die on Mount Duffy in something close to droves: Despite Mr. Harper’s declarations that no one in his office knew about Mr. Wright’s cheque to Mount Duffy, then that “very few people” people in his office knew about it, e-mails in the RCMP filing indicate that at least six people in the Prime Minister’s Office were aware of the arrangement.
A whole volleyball team of people seemed to have known, but Mr. Harper, essentially the team’s captain, says he didn’t and that if he had, he would certainly not have approved the initiative.
There are elements in the ITO that make believing Mr. Harper’s ignorance on this a strain. The ITO references 2,600 e-mails that “contain possible evidencery value.” If the Prime Minister didn’t know what his staff was attempting to orchestrate, did he not wonder what the hell they did with their time?
Is Mr. Harper at home right now shaking his head and saying, “So that’s what they were up to! And I went through all the trouble of blocking Facebook because I blamed Candy Crush!”
There’s also the fact that, as he worked to finalize a deal whereby Mr. Duffy’s debt, then thought to be $32,000, would be paid out of the Conservative Party coffers (your Conservative government: tough on crime – over $32,000), Mr. Wright wrote an e-mail saying, “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final,” followed by an e-mail saying “We are good to go from the PM.”
Why would Mr. Wright seek Mr. Harper’s approval before Mr. Duffy could pay back money he clearly owed using his own Duffy dollars? Was he in the habit of running every banal aspect of his life by the leader of our country? Was it “A friend of mine got a cable bill in the mail yesterday. Pay? Or not pay?” and “Stephen, fries or salad? What do you think?” Or did the Prime Minister approve the initial deal?
Reading ITOs is what Canadians do these days. Last week, it was the Rob Ford/Sandro Lisi ITO, which is the War and Peace of ITOs in terms of both length and vodka consumption. But the Duffy/Wright ITO is also a classic that demands a sequel – and, of course, an ITO is a request for court orders to obtain further evidence.
Will that reveal what Mr. Harper knew? Well, inconstancies in statements versus e-mails suggest Conservative Senators David Tkachuk, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and Marjory LeBreton were lying when they, too, claimed ignorance of Wright/Duffy deal, and possibly lied to the RCMP on this matter, and that, at the apparent insistence of Mr. Wright and others in the PMO, they conspired to whitewash the Senate report into Mr. Duffy’s expenses and to divert the course of the Deloitte report, a supposedly independent audit paid for with tax dollars. Honestly, in light of everything this document indicates – what Mr. Harper, the Boy in the Bubble, knew, didn’t know or should have known feels almost, almost like a subplot.
In those e-mails, Mr. Wright credibly professes anger at Mr. Duffy’s expenses. He insists to the RCMP that he only wanted to see Canadians reimbursed $90,000. A noble idea, but we’re not so cheap as to want this at the expense of the integrity of our parliamentary democracy.