Politics is often filled with acts of revenge, retribution and payback for duplicity. Political parties generally run themselves, by themselves. Unless you are a Party member, (or a political journalist), you are unlikely to be familiar with the fights and deals common in nomination meetings and Party elections. And as we have been reminded over the past few months, the House of Commons and the Senate also run their own business. Right or wrong, politics has often been a law unto itself, and the rules are not always clear. They are sometimes simple human emotions.
Mike Duffy was a high profile television journalist who was handpicked and appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to become an unelected Senator. Stories suggest that there was a lack of due diligence surrounding his residency requirements or, more charitably, a misunderstanding. Various reports have documented that Mr. Duffy fulfilled his position as Senator with gusto, especially when it came to fundraising for the Conservative Party, an organization in which he had not played a role before. In other words, the loyalty from other party members that is often garnered over years of battles and elections would not naturally be present for Mr. Duffy. Nor would he necessarily feel any loyalty to others.
Not all are engaged with the top players in the party, but Mr. Duffy certainly was – with both the Prime Minister’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright and party fundraiser Irving Gerstein, who was also a colleague in the Senate. But solely engaging at the top in politics can often be a fatal flaw – because there will be no one to catch you when you fall.
And Mike Duffy has fallen. In a most spectacular fashion. No one is catching him, except his lawyer, Donald Bayne, who says Mr. Duffy hasn’t fallen but was pushed by operatives in the Prime Minister’s Office. Possibly, they were the same people who sent him on the road to raise money for the Conservative Party and who appointed him in the first place.
So what happened? Clearly, there was belated concern at the top that Mr. Duffy’s expenses did not pass the smell test, either legally or ethically. Yet somehow, Mr. Duffy either misunderstood his “entitlements” or was given the wrong information about his expense claims. Even worse, Mr. Duffy’s lawyer claims that approval given for the expense claims was given either by individual Senators or by the Senate administration. A second argument is that the rules weren’t clear and/or were changed along the way (a claim also made by Pamela Wallin).
That a number of people were involved in trying to “manage the Duffy issue” comes as no surprise to anyone who has worked in government. The surprise was the statement by the Prime Minister that Mr. Wright acted alone in writing a personal cheque to Mr. Duffy to cover the discrepancy in his expense claims.
And now, in dribs and drabs, by e-mails, statements and theatre, the truth will come out. Between investigations, hearings and human emotions of anger, betrayal and shock on all sides, the Watergate moment has to come. And by the end of it, perhaps our political system will have been shaken up. In a world of transparency and instant messaging, secrets are hard to keep. Secretive governments will not last. And secretive politicians will find themselves on a slippery slope.
Democracy itself as a political philosophy is known to be messy and sometimes very unjust. The late Margaret Thatcher wrote in The Downing Street Years that “of course, democracy is no respecter of persons”. She understood the game, if not the reality. She describes how Churchill, having won the war for Great Britain, was turfed from office at the next election. “At least,” she notes, “it was the British people who dismissed him from office.” She of course, was famously dismissed by her own caucus, a scenario which is possible in a parliamentary democracy.
In the next few days, Mr. Harper has to face growing and serious questions about what he knew of the Duffy affair. Next week, the Prime Minister must deal with a national party convention in Calgary. We endlessly hear that “the base” of the Conservative party is unhappy. But with whom?
Mike Duffy wants revenge. And he served it very cold this week.
Penny Collenette, a former senior fellow at the Kennedy School of Government and former director of appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office under Jean Chrétien, is an adjunct professor in the University of Ottawa’s faculty of law.