When Canadians vote two months from today, on Oct. 19, how many will have the Mike Duffy affair uppermost in their minds?
If many do, that would be bad news for the Conservatives. Mr. Duffy, once one of them, worked assiduously as a senator for the party as fundraiser and cheerleader, only to land it in a mess of contradictions, embarrassments and evasions, culminating in an obvious and sustained attempt by the Prime Minister's advisers to cover up and deceive the Canadian public about what really happened.
Conservatives can only hope – and they will likely be rewarded in this hope – that when the already snail's-pace Duffy trial pauses at the end of next week for another long (two-month) break, that the issue will have faded for most voters when they mark ballots.
Parsing the trial has required sorting through a maze of improbabilities, incongruities and implausibilities. Consider a few.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said he knew nothing about plans for his chief-of-staff Nigel Wright or the Conservative Party to give money to Mr. Duffy to cover unpaid and unwarranted expenses. He read about it in the newspaper and acted thereafter telling Mr. Duffy to repay the money, especially his housing expenses for a secondary home in Prince Edward Island when he spent most of his time in Ottawa.
Everything observers and insiders know about this Prime Minister and his office suggests Mr. Harper has his finger on almost every file. Civil servants are amazed by how much he reads. Ministers have their chains yanked all the time by his staff. Never has a government been more centralized. Seldom, if ever, has a prime minister been on top of more files than Mr. Harper.
And yet, if we are to believe Mr. Harper, he was blindsided by news of his chief-of-staff's payment of $90,000 to Mr. Duffy. Nor did he, as leader of the party, know anything about the plan cooked up, then aborted, by Mr. Wright, others in the Prime Minister's Office and some Conservative senators to pay Mr. Duffy's expenses from party funds.
So either Mr. Harper is gilding the truth about his ignorance; or those around him, with or without his explicit consent, kept him deliberately out of information loops to provide him, should such an escape be necessary, with the "plausible deniability" of ignorance.
Then there is Mr. Wright. He paid $90,000 to Mr. Duffy as payment for the senator's owed expenses, for which Mr. Duffy is charged with bribery for having taken Mr. Wright's money. But how is it, a lay person might ask, that the recipient of the money as a public office-holder is charged with bribery but the one doing the paying is not, presumably on the legal theory of mens rea, being free of a guilty mind?
Is it plausible that Mr. Wright told no one because, as he testified citing Scripture, good deeds should remain unheralded. Or, as is more likely, would such an admission have blown up in everyone's face, including his, Mr. Duffy's and the Prime Minister's, which is exactly what did happen when news of the payment broke.
Throughout the affair – and this is the takeaway lesson of how the Prime Minister's Office operates – everything in the Harper entourage revolved around image, reputation, damage-control and spin. That the truth might and should be told, openly and immediately, never occurred to any of them.
Mr. Duffy's lawyer, the redoubtable Donald Bayne, has portrayed his client as an innocent among knaves. That he was among knaves might well be plausible; that his client was an innocent is not plausible after all those years around and in politics.
Even if, as the senator and his lawyer contend, the Senate's expense rules might have been opaque, it was wrong by any standard, other than perhaps the narrowest construction of the rules, to claim expenses for a principal residence in which you don't live. And to take trips of an obviously partisan nature and claim them as Senate business when that business was minimal at best.
It is ironic, observing the wreckage of the Senate's reputation, that Mr. Duffy, who hungered for so long for entry into the gilded circle, contributed to the diminution of it. Others have made their contribution too, which raises the question: What ever happened to the investigation of Pamela Wallin, another Harper senatorial appointee?