Lord Durham's solution to an executive that was not accountable to the elected legislatures in Upper and Lower Canada was Responsible Government. The Government and its Ministers would be answerable to the legislature and each Minister responsible for his or her own department.
Under the constitutional convention of Responsible Government, every Minister of the Crown must answer to the legislature for the operation of the department that he or she supervises. It is the Minister who is responsible for the performance and actions (or inactions) of the unelected and therefore unaccountable civil service. The concept is applicable to all Ministers of the Crown, including the Prime Minister.
It is difficult to keep track of the ever-growing list of accusations, insinuations, and conjecture dropping like grenades in the Wright/Duffy Scandal.
The Prime Minister has consistently maintained (he has been very clear!) that he was not apprised of the $90,000 cheque cut by his then Chief of Staff to cover Senator Duffy's ineligible housing expenses.
I have consistently believed him for two reasons. For one, the stakes are too high for him not to have been truthful. For another, given their operating practices, it is consistent that PMO staffers would have created barriers to keep their boss unaware of the details for his own protection.
But there comes a point when it no longer matters who knew what or when. Although, every institution is going to have some rogue operatives, a Minister cannot possibly be responsible for each and every misdeed. Nobody is going to call for a Minister's resignation when a file clerk in a department is pilfering paper clips and sticky notes.
But the alleged rot inside the PMO is very different. Firstly, it has reached the very highest levels. Secondly, it involves a growing number of players, all at the very highest levels of PMO and now the Conservative Party of Canada.
It is no longer a sufficient response (nor an accurate one) that Nigel Wright acted alone and has taken full responsibility. It is not for a public servant, even a highly placed one, to take responsibility for a mess this big; that is the obligation of the supervising Minister.
Given the growing number of senior confidants of the Prime Minister who were either directly involved or in the know, it is no longer acceptable to blame the entire debacle on a rogue Chief of Staff, no matter how clear you are when you blame him!
Undoubtedly, an institutional breakdown or, worse, a culture of malfeasance allowed this Prime Minister's Office to be blind to, or complicit in, a massively botched cover-up of a sitting legislator's expense claims.
Whichever scenario has led to this, it is the Prime Minister who is responsible to Parliament for the operation of the PMO and the actions of its employees. The Prime Minster is responsible for both the ethical standards and the general competence of those within his office. Nigel Wright cannot have taken "full responsibility" for this fiasco; it is the Prime Minister who is responsible for him and every other employee complicit in, or wilfully blind to, what was going on.
It is time for the PM to man up, take responsibility, clean house, and promise greater transparency and less top-down control in the future. That would restore Canada's commitment to Responsible Government and the Prime Minister's reputation as a leader.
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