Skip to main content
tabatha southey

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 24, 2013.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

"In fact there is no agreement and he hasn't been paid anything," Stephen Harper said in 2006 when reporters on the campaign trail questioned him about remarks made by Alan Riddell who, asked why he'd withdrawn his candidacy from the riding of Ottawa South with just a few days left in the race, said the Conservative Party, fancying another candidate, had offered to pay his campaign expenses – about $50,000.

"The party does not have an agreement to pay Mr. Riddell these expenses," Mr. Harper said, although emails later proved otherwise to a judge's satisfaction: Mr. Riddell sued for the money and won.

Paul Wells, who recounts this small but arguably emblematic episode in Harper history in his timely new book, The Longer I'm Prime Minister, writes that the evidence that emerged during the trial was unequivocal. "It was clear there was a 'binding agreement.' It was clear Harper was in the loop. And it was clear that, even after his party's business became public, Harper preferred to claim there was no such business.

The story is worth repeating because it demonstrates two of Harper's work habits: a preoccupation with confidentiality and a willingness to use money to make problems go away," Mr. Wells writes before touching upon Bev Oda's extravagances and the Prime Minister's attempt to have his minister of international co-operation pay her way back into the public's good graces. You may recall he defended Ms. Oda until he didn't.

Mr. Harper is what we in the writing business might call a "formula Prime Minister."

Possibly the Riddell story demonstrates a third Harper habit as well: a readiness to claim there's "no such business" when in fact there's a boom-time market of business swirling colourfully around the Prime Minister like the "who will buy my sweet red roses ..." scene in Oliver!

Of course, it's possible our sweet Oliver really doesn't see any of this – is genuinely as shocked as his pantomime-with-much-finger-wagging in the House this week might indicate at Senator Mike Duffy's housing-allowance shenanigans. Perhaps the Prime Minister is still as bewildered as the rest of us that, in an unlikely plot turn straight out of Pretty Woman, Mr. Duffy's $90,000 debt was repaid by the PM's own chief of staff, millionaire Nigel Wright.

"The facts are clear," Mr. Harper said when, on Wednesday, he finally answered questions he has repeatedly answered by saying he has already answered them. "Mr. Duffy now says he is a victim because I told him he should repay his expenses. Darn right I told him," said an apparently outraged-to-the-point-of-folksiness Harper Gump.

Formula-PM had, as is his wont, praised Mr. Duffy after his creative accounting practices became public – just as he had Pamela Wanderlust Wallin (so Groundhog Day) before cutting them both loose, along with Senator Patrick Brazeau, of what turned out to be a very fixed address. This, perhaps not strategically astute, move on the PM's behalf left the three of them with little to lose when they appeared before the Senate this week to fight their expulsion – instigating some quality Canadian entertainment.

Mr. Brazeau gave a performance so overwrought, aggrieved and forgettable it was Tom Cruise-level Oscar-bait. All three senators hinted at a level of destitution straight out of Slumdog Millionaire, attacked randomly like Al Pacino in And Justice For All – but were essentially cornered and throwing themselves off a cliff like Butch and Sundance and Louise.

Mr. Duffy tore into the PM with the viciousness of a mobster. Ms. Wallin is apparently starring in Mean Girls. Other women on the Hill are just jealous because she "once garnered the praise of the Prime Minister," she said, setting the feminist cause back to pre-Clan of the Cave Bear.

Some seek a hero in this. Either the PM betrayed innocent senators, or guilty senators betrayed a trusting PM, but every character here seems so unsympathetic and self-serving that surely a film of this affair could only be a European production. Of course, if it's a French film, Ms. Wallin will be an alluring, troubled 15-year-old runaway appointed to the Senate after she hitchhikes to Ottawa from Nantes. Canadians have, of late, been asked to believe equally unlikely things.

Maybe this is why Mr. Harper keeps talking about free trade with Europe when asked about the Senate – he's opening up markets for this mess.