Conservative MP Candice Bergen walks to Conservative caucus in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)Judge Charles Vaillancourt, in acquitting Duffy of all charges a day earlier, painted an exacting portrait of Harper's underlings manipulating the Senate using a covert command-and-control system that the veteran judge flatly deemed "unacceptable." Tight, centralized control from the Prime Minister's Office isn't a new story in Canada's parliamentary system, but the Duffy trial testimony and judgment gave rare insight into what Vaillancourt described as a "mind-boggling and shocking" case study. Donald Savoie, a political scientist who literally wrote the book on "court government," said in an interview that his 1999 academic treatise "Governing From the Centre" was considered a bit over the top at the time. "Clearly I didn't overstate the case," Savoie said Friday from his University of Moncton office.
'They over-played their cards'
Kenney, Van Loan exit through back doors
Sen. Mike Duffy leaves the courthouse at the conclusion of his trial on April 21, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)Only Bergen, the Conservative MP for Portage-Lisgar and former minister of state for social development, was prepared to face the news cameras and defend her old government.
Narrative all wrong, Bergen says"I would respectfully disagree with people, including the judge, who somehow thinks that we were all told what to do at the PMO," said Bergen. She said the Conservatives worked as a team, while acknowledging Harper's image problem as a control freak, contrasting him to current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "It was the narrative because Mr. Harper wasn't the selfie king at all. He wasn't in GQ (magazine)," said Bergen. "He wasn't talking with all of you (news media) folks as much as you probably would have wanted. The narrative then was he's controlling, he's a dictator. That was the narrative. It wasn't true. He was a strong, strong leader."
With Duffy fully reinstated in the Senate and former PMO staff scattered to the winds, NDP MP Peter Julian was left to wonder, "who's taking responsibility for this fiasco?" John McKay, a veteran Liberal MP who's now parliamentary secretary to the defence minister, gave a surprisingly frank response when asked how Canadians can know that the same old centralized power won't continue in the Prime Minister's Office. "In some respects you don't," said McKay.
"Mr. Harper wasn't the selfie king at all. He wasn't in GQ. He wasn't talking with all of you (news media) folks as much as you probably would have wanted. The narrative then was he's controlling, he's a dictator. That was the narrative. It wasn't true. He was a strong, strong leader."
— Candice Bergen
Could same thing happen in Trudeau's PMO?He then pointed to Trudeau's decision to remove all Liberal-appointed senators from the party caucus and create a more partisanship-free Senate appointment process. "That creates its own level of difficulties," said McKay. "In fact, we're in kind of a no-man's land as to how we get our own legislation through." Nonetheless, McKay called Vaillancourt's judgment good for democracy. "I wish it was not so, but I think the judge has done us all a service to call our democracy to an account. And thank goodness we operate under the rule of law, and not under the rule of gossip."
Silver liningSavoie, the long-time critic of centralized government control, also sees a silver lining. The Senate will be forced to firm up its rules and regulations, Senate appointments will be less partisan and the PMO has been proven vulnerable to exposure of its inner workings. "I think change will come about and we've started to see it," said the academic. "There's accountability through rules and processes; that's one kind of accountability. The other form of accountability is reputation. Some reputations were destroyed through this process."
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