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Duffy: God's Gift to the Opposition

05/31/2013 12:19 EDT | Updated 07/31/2013 05:12 EDT
WikiMedia: Editor at Large

Another week of the Duffy scandal has come to a close on the Hill. It is an issue that both politicians and the public love to talk about and there is no doubt that in the short term; there will be a cost to the Conservative brand and to the Prime Minister's reputation. But both have proven pretty resilient over the past few years and with Canadians focused on the economy; don't count them out just yet.

However, besides the obvious public fallout, there are other hidden ones that neither the public nor the media will be exposed to and in many ways they are important to the future success of the government.

Harper has always demanded accountability from his ministers, insisting that they manage their expenses carefully and that they are accountable for their spending. Bev Oda learnt that lesson the hard way, both in having to pay the money back and eventually losing her cabinet post.

This Senate scandal is sure to erode any trust the Prime Minister might have had that such continues to be the case. Undoubtedly there will now be more internal controls and reviews done at the political level, all of which uses up scarce staff resources, energy and time at both the PMO and ministerial level. This is time and energy that should be devoted to moving the Prime Minister's agenda forward.

You have to be on the inside and live through a scandal such as this to fully appreciate the impact it has on staff morale and burn out. This story is far from being under control with new revelations almost every day. The staff, especially in PMO, is putting in incredibly long and very stressful days. It will be an ugly working environment, staff will be exhausted, tempers will be flaring and everyone's judgment questioned. When the dust settles, more than one staffer will be evaluating whether or not this is the type of job they want to keep doing.

Another causality will be the faith the caucus has in the leader. They too will be following events and questioning what has transpired. It's not a fatal blow for Harper, but it does mean he will have to devote more of his time to managing his MPs and senators. This is no easy task when you realize how jam-packed his schedule is on a regular day, never mind in the midst of a crisis.

Duffy is a gift to the opposition parties that has rescued them from a Question Period stupor. Up until now their performance has been pretty pathetic. Up until this issue broke, they appeared disorganized, lacked focus and there were only occasional glimpses of the damage they could do to a government through the proper use of Question Period. For the most part Harper and his ministers had a pretty easy time pushing back on opposition questions.

That is no longer the case. Mulcair has been excellent and focused. Trudeau is asking sharper questions and improving by the day. Both parties have finally adopted a Question Period strategy that lets their best questioners lead the way with focused, tight questions that stick to the same theme. This alone does not bode well for the government side in the short term, but it is a longer term issue as well.

The opposition parties are rejuvenated, focused and on a roll. It remains to be seen if they can maintain this momentum through June and pick things up again in September. If they can, then the government will have to take Question Period much more seriously in the last two years of its mandate.

Reputation management, staff burnout, increased workload and an effective opposition are just some of the hidden fallout that the Duffy scandal has created for the Conservatives. It won't get any easier from this point going forward.

Controversial Canadian Senators