Nigel Wright did the honourable thing, though it is still unclear he did anything technically wrong. Meanwhile, the beneficiary of his act of charity, and the person who has created the impression of being an expenses cheat, the Honourable Mike Duffy, continues to sit in the Senate. There is something wrong here.
Mr. Wright’s resignation as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff was likely inevitable from the moment the news broke that he had written a personal cheque for $90,000 to allow Senator Duffy to repay taxpayers for dubious housing claims. Mr. Wright said he acted in the public interest, but he accepted responsibility for the decision that brought the expenses controversy to the Prime Minister’s doorstep.
Mr. Wright’s departure is understandable, if regrettable.
Meanwhile, the senator, who has been embroiled for months in a controversy over housing expense claims and a trail of other questionable expenses filings, issued a statement on Thursday saying only that he is “going to take some time away from the public.”
It is never a good sign when a public official caught up in a public controversy announces his intention to take time away from the public he serves. Senator Duffy also resigned from the Conservative caucus, saying the controversy had become “a significant distraction” to the party. This is certainly true. However much Senator Duffy may have helped the Conservatives in the past, in his roles as an effective fundraiser or as a party attack dog, he has undone that by this self-generated controversy.
What is regrettable is that the senator’s desire to protect the Conservative Party is apparently not matched by any corresponding desire to protect the integrity of the Senate, or the integrity of public servants more broadly. He plans to continue to sit in the Senate, henceforth as an independent.
We all have to pay for our mistakes, something Mr. Wright ultimately recognized. The public does not yet have all the facts, but on Friday, it was announced that Senator Duffy’s expense claims would be subject to further scrutiny by the Senate committee on Internal Economy. He may yet have to pay for his.