You might remember Nigel Wright's name, but probably not his face. You've never really heard him tell his side of the Mike Duffy story. Now you will.
Mr. Duffy's trial resumes Wednesday, with Mr. Wright scheduled to be the star witness. Stephen Harper's former chief of staff was called by Crown prosecutors trying to prove that Mr. Duffy took a bribe, and Mr. Wright is to testify he paid the money, to the tune of $90,172.24.
This is a public reminder the Conservatives didn't need now. Mr. Harper's former right-hand man is back in the second week of an election campaign to put a face on PMO involvement in a scandal they wish people would forget.
One silver lining is that Mr. Wright is likely to be a more sympathetic character to the public than Mr. Duffy. Mr. Wright was, in the recounting of RCMP affidavits, something like the wealthy monk of Mr. Harper's PMO, running half-marathons each morning, refusing to claim thousands of dollars in expenses and, shocked at Mr. Duffy's expenses, ponying up 90 grand to get taxpayers off the hook. Mr. Wright's testimony will presumably reflect what he told the RCMP, that Mr. Harper didn't know his aide had paid.
But it's still a lose-lose. Either Mr. Duffy, Mr. Harper's star Senate appointee, looks even worse, or Mr. Harper's aide looks bad. Possibly both. Worse, Mr. Wright will probably be asked to recount, under defence questioning, details of how a sausage was made in the Prime Minister's Office.
Mr. Wright, after all, didn't pay $90,000 out of pure charity. He wanted the whole business to go away so it didn't hurt Mr. Harper. Paying the money allowed a joint damage-control communications strategy with Mr. Duffy and the Senate committee looking into his expenses.
There was extensive negotiation about hushing it up. Mr. Wright initially had the Conservative Fund, headed by Senator Irving Gerstein, lined up to pay. When Mr. Gerstein found out the bill was $90,000, not the $30,000 he expected, he balked, but the party did pay $12,000 for Mr. Duffy's legal fees. Just having that much repeated is bad for the Conservatives.
This scandal, perhaps more than anything else, has a tendency to alienate soft Conservative supporters. The Conservatives' lowest ebbs have come with big revelations in the Mike Duffy affair.
Mr. Harper's Conservatives dropped below 28 per cent support only twice in an average of polls compiled between 2009 and 2015 by the website threehundredeight.com. The first time was in May, 2013, when it was revealed that it was Mr. Wright who really reimbursed Mr. Duffy's expenses. The second was in November, 2013, when the RCMP filed a long affidavit revealing extensive coverup machinations inside the Prime Minister's Office.
The consolation for the Tories is that neither the laying of charges against Mr. Duffy nor the start of the trial had the same shock impact. It is August, 10 weeks from voting day, so Mr. Wright's testimony might fade from view.
But that's not entirely comforting to Mr. Harper. Scandals also cause wear and tear on long-serving governments. It's not the details that damage, but the sense that a government put its own interests ahead of public interest. Mr. Harper's Conservatives fuelled that feeling about the Liberals in the 2005-06 campaign with grainy TV ads depicting people watching sponsorship scandal reports and looking as though they smelled something bad. In this campaign, opponents will be watching Mr. Wright's testimony closely for ad fodder.
Of course, Mr. Harper is not on trial, nor is his PMO, nor Mr. Wright. But the testimony is likely to deal with inside-the-government details.
One notable reason for that is that Mr. Duffy is charged with taking a bribe, but Mr. Wright is not charged with proffering one. It appears prosecutors decided Mr. Wright didn't have criminal intent. That suggests the prosecution will try to show Mr. Duffy was angling for the money, while the defence will seek to show that the idea came from Mr. Wright, or the PMO. That means talk about who did what to whom inside Conservative halls of power. And that's not what Mr. Harper wants to talk about in an election campaign.