“How could it be,” Charlie Angus of the NDP was saying, “that all the key people around him are named in RCMP affidavits and the prime minister expects us to believe that he didn’t know anything?”
It’s the central question. How could Stephen Harper have been so unaware of what was going on with something as potentially toxic as the Senate scandal? It’s out of character. His control-freak ways have been repeatedly documented. He is one of the most micro of micromanagers.
If we believe him, though, he was in the dark on this one. All his subordinates in the PMO, all his close associates in the Senate – Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Marjory LeBreton, Irving Gerstein – didn’t breathe a word of it to him. He didn’t ask. They didn’t tell.
Some suspect that he purposely chose to stay out of the loop. As in, “Fix it – just don’t tell me how.” But a prime minister has a responsibility to make sure his staff isn’t taking cues from Richard Nixon’s White House.
In the face of Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair’s heavy artillery, Mr. Harper has contradicted himself several times on aspects of the story. The Commons has never seen him squirm so much. But on the matter of not knowing how Mike Duffy’s expense claims were repaid, he has held firm and likely will continue to do so no matter how much evidence is adduced to the contrary.
He will hope his support holds in the same way that support for someone with worse problems, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, appears to be holding. Mr. Ford has stuck to the line that he represents the average guy. He doesn’t. He’s an insult to the average guy. I suspect this will register before long and his support will unravel before long, as Mr. Harper’s likely will.
Even if the PM’s story about not knowing anything holds up, he is a badly wounded leader. He cannot wash himself clean of what those around him have done. It was he who created the culture that has led his team to act like this – to spin a web of deceit, an attempted cover-up, a mockery of the truth.
Now that the nature of the PMO operation has been laid bare in an RCMP report, a major problem arises for the Conservatives. If more controversies arise, how credible is the PMO’s word going to be? For example, if more incriminating evidence is forthcoming on electoral-fraud allegations related to the 2011 election, are people going to believe that no one from Mr. Harper’s inner sanctum knew or was involved?
The PMO has been trying to put the blame on one rogue operative, a kid named Michael Sona. With party lawyer Arthur Hamilton looking on, several Conservative staffers have given statements to an Elections Canada investigator alleging that Mr. Sona boasted about his robo-calls work. Last week, we learned that two staffers who gave some of the most damaging testimony said they had met with Mr. Sona during a certain time frame. We then learned from Mr. Sona’s travel records that he was on a beach in Aruba during that period.
The credibility of the highest office in the land is being shredded. As we learn more – on the Senate scandal, on robo-calls, on $3.1-billion the government cannot account for – it’s likely to continue shredding.