So let's say an audit is being done on you or your organization and that the audit could land you in deep trouble. It could possibly lead to criminal charges. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just order up changes to the audit? How about having the offending paragraphs deleted?
But even if you could, you wouldn't want to take the risk. If you got caught, you would be in worse trouble, your credibility and integrity shattered.
Which brings us to the Prime Minister's Office. If we are to believe the evidence, this is in fact what top officials in the highest office in the land did in handling the Senate expenses' controversy. They took an extreme risk and are now getting caught. As for impact on integrity, time will tell and will probably spell hell.
There was evidence beforehand that the PMO had interfered with a Deloitte audit on the expenses of Mike Duffy and other senators. But new court documents obtained by The Globe and Mail make the case stronger. In one, Corporal Benoit Jolette says the force's investigation learned that the audit report "had made its way to the PMO, to their office and, I guess, revisions, what they wanted to have written in the report, was done." In addition, e-mails from PMO officials speak of plans "to protect Senator Duffy." Nigel Wright, then Stephen Harper's chief of staff, writes of an intent to "put him in a different bucket."
In terms of breach of the public trust, falsifying audits ranks high. The Harper Tories have been caught at it before. There was a case involving former cabinet minister Bev Oda altering a document for CIDA funding. In another they went so far as to distort a report by former auditor-general Sheila Fraser. They used her words to make it look like she was crediting their party with prudent financial management when in fact she was crediting the Liberals.
How much do they think they can get away with? Being caught once usually makes you think twice about being a repeat offender. Not these guys.
Last week's revelations produced columns with headlines such as "The Duffy trial's smoking gun just blew up in Harper's face." A telltale sign of the Tory troubles on the file is that they offered no rebuttal to pointed questioning in the Commons. Instead, they had backbencher Paul Calandra stand and issue a sheaf of non-answers. This was the same Mr. Calandra who some time ago gave a tear-drenched apology for making a mockery of Question Period with such answers. Rather than show any remorse, he was now doing it again.
The Tories have been frequently condemned for using budget-implementation omnibus bills that are widely viewed as an abuse of the democratic process. Rather than show any remorse, they brought forward another one last week. This one buried a slew of important measures that have little relation to a budget under a 157-page avalanche.
It was a week for the Tories to try to forget. Their Alberta dynasty toppled – to the NDP no less. They embarrassed themselves by trotting out a fabrication in trying to explain a promotional security breach in Iraq. They lost the battle to keep Omar Khadr behind bars. He was released on bail and, to the PMO's chagrin, he hardly fit the image of evil incarnate as portrayed by Mr. Harper, who repeatedly challenged his legal rights as written in court decisions.
The Duffy disclosures (there will be more to come) will likely turn out to be the most damaging. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair alleged in the House of Commons they constitute obstruction of justice. No such charges have been laid against PMO officials, but if they do not suffer legal consequences, there may well be political ones.
Yet again we have the integrity of this government being called into question. For the Conservatives, there is now a real risk of it becoming the ballot question. If it does, they can kiss their chances of re-election goodbye.