Nigel Wright is the silent man many people are talking about. He will speak when the time is right, for he knows more about the Senate spending affair than anyone else.
Wisely, Mr. Wright is keeping his counsel, while others in the mini-drama insist that they did nothing wrong. Not one actor has admitted to serious error, although all accuse Mr. Wright of making at least one. He is the villain, the manipulator, the fall guy. At some point, perhaps at a future trial or in some other public forum, Mr. Wright will explain what he knows.
Mr. Wright, who kept a low profile as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, came to Ottawa with a fine reputation in business circles. Of course, he was a Conservative or he would not have come to Ottawa. But he had extensive experience in high places in the private sector and had also worked in the public sector.
Mr. Wright had, and still has, many friends and admirers in the Toronto business community. They must be sickened to see their friend’s reputation dragged through the Ottawa mud, including by his old boss, the Prime Minister. As the oft-used cliché puts it, Mr. Harper has thrown Mr. Wright “under the bus.”
After watching what happened to Mr. Wright’s reputation, what person of substance (excluding long-time political careerists) would dream of coming to Ottawa, which has become a nasty, partisan place where reputations go to die?
For weeks, Mr. Harper insisted that Mr. Wright had done the “honourable” thing and “resigned” because of his inappropriate act of sending a $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy to cover the senator’s expenses. Then, on Monday, the Prime Minister changed his story and said he “dismissed” – fired – Mr. Wright.
As NDP Leader Tom Mulcair noted in the Commons, Mr. Wright either resigned or was fired. Both of Mr. Harper’s statements could not be true.
Worse yet, Mr. Harper said that Mr. Wright “deceived” him, a very serious charge suggesting a deliberate act by a second-in-command to mislead his boss. This “deception” charge is a grave allegation against anyone, but it is at one with Mr. Harper’s overall stand that although others knew many details of the Mike Duffy affair, he did not. Others were in the loop, including the deceiver, Mr. Wright, but not the Prime Minister.
Mr. Wright has nothing to lose in this sordid affair except his reputation, whereas the others, including Mr. Harper, risk losing their jobs. Mr. Wright worked in the private sector before he left for Ottawa, and to the private sector he will presumably return. But the senators involved will struggle to find work, except perhaps for writing self-serving books.
Mr. Harper, were he to be brought lower by this affair, would face the abyss of electoral defeat influenced by what is, in the great scheme of public affairs, a relatively trivial matter.
Mr. Wright presumably has been or will be interviewed at length by the RCMP. In due course, the Mounties will decide whether sufficient evidence exists to charge anyone. It will then be up to the Crown to decide whether to lay charges.
Any trial might be as far away as 2015, given the exceptionally slow turning of the wheels of justice. That is also the year of the next scheduled election. What Mr. Harper’s Conservatives will not need in 2015 is daily reporting on a Senate trial.
Perhaps there will be no charges. Mr. Wright would certainly be likely to be called to testify in connection with any cases that do go forward.
Any trial would likely compel him to speak in 2015. He has to decide, while watching himself being called a deceiver by his former boss and an accomplice by Mr. Duffy, whether to remain silent that long.
All involved have spun their tales while Mr. Wright has remained silent. This affair will never end until he speaks. And when he does, given what he has been put through by the others’ claims, reputations other than his own will suffer.
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