Less a bombshell than a dud. That was my take on Senator Duffy's latest headline-making rant on the Senate floor yesterday (and accompanying info dump) which the Canadian press is once again making out to be some eye-popping indictment of corruption and intrigue at the highest levels of the Harper government, as opposed to what it actually was -- a fairly unremarkable fleshing-out of stale revelations that reflect worst on Duffy himself.
Consider his supposedly most destructive missile lob, the claim that Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Harper's ex-chief of staff, set up Duffy with (in his words), "not one, but two" cheques as a means of getting the high-spending senator to refund taxpayers for his enormous tab of ill-begotten travel and housing expenses. While we've all known about cheque number one for months -- the infamous $90 grand Wright loaned Duffy to repay the tab itself -- Monday's speech was the first we'd heard of an additional $13,000 procured from Conservative Party legal counsel Arthur Hamilton to help the Senator pay down all the lawyers' fees he'd accumulated during his troubles with the Senate auditors.
Who precisely this revelation is supposed to outrage escapes me. News of a second cheque hasn't in any way undermined the honourable motive of the Wright conspiracy -- using private money to pay down public debts incurred through offensive acts of political corruption -- it's simply exposed the unflattering fact that getting Duffy to take responsibility came at a higher price than was originally known.
Even Duffy's darker revelation (originally just a conspiracy theory, now confirmed to be true), that the $13,000 in question was not paid out of Mr. Hamilton's pocket but rather some sort of Tory Party slush fund, is considerably less ominous than it sounds. The Conservative Party of Canada, after all, is a private organization, with members who willingly pay dues knowing full well their cash may be used for all sorts of harebrained partisan purposes, such as building a $7 million voter database that doesn't work, or, in the words of one Tory spokesman, "sometimes assisting members of caucus with legal expenses." In the end, a $13,000 bill for the Tories got $90,000 back to the taxpayers. Canada's an enviable country indeed if our worst scandals involve parties and politicians returning money to the treasury.
Similarly, that Wright and Duffy initially conspired to conceal their deal through what Duffy calls a "script" of make-believe ("The Royal Bank helped me," recited the Senator in May, "Nigel played no role") may not be either man's proudest hour, but neither was it a lie that served much purpose beyond protecting Duffy's dignity. Well, and possibly shielding Wright from an RCMP visit for violating political donation laws, but since the script didn't survive long, that's now happening anyway.
Duff's final defensive cry was easily his most tortured and pathetic: this oft-stated idea that the Senator had done "nothing wrong" in pocketing thousands of dollars in false pretence living and travel expenses because the law was on his side. As proof of this, Duffy submitted a two-page Senate memo from 2009 written by Professor Christopher McCreery, a respected constitutional monarchy scholar (who's currently serving as advisor to the lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, of all things), in which the prof states that "so long as a Senator owns property in his or her province of appointment then they are allowed to sit as a Senator from that province, even if they live in Ottawa 99% of the time." Further expert testimony was provided by Duffy via a short email from Nigel Wright himself, in which the then-Chief of Staff states, in response to some unseen Duffy inquiry, that "I am told you have complied with all the applicable rules."
Again, it's unclear who this is supposed to shock. As I discussed in a previous column, the controversy over Duffy and friends has never been about the fact that the embattled senators have been living in Ottawa and not the provinces they're supposed to be representing, but rather that they've been lying about their place of residence as a way to greedily opt-into travel and housing allowances intended for senators who actually live outside the capital. As far as I know, Duffy's never even attempted to provide a justification for why it was morally defensible to do this, and has instead merely repeated the mantra that nothing can possibly be unethical if it's legal, and that it's somehow vile, unconstitutional, and tyrannical for the Prime Minister to be demanding he now take a fall for unethical behaviour alone.
For those keeping track, in his attempts to exonerate himself, Duffy has so far admitted to exploiting Senate loopholes for material gain, confessed to engaging in a high-level conspiracy with the PMO to escape financial hardship, and acknowledged lying to the Canadian people to conceal his culpability in said scheme. The fact that he now loudly regrets at least some of this is immaterial. If he's willing to spend day after day squawking on the Senate floor that the Harper government has "no moral compass" then the least he can do, as a gentleman similarly lacking that device, is set a good example and resign from the chamber Professor McCreery says is supposed to consist only of "honourable" persons.
From a man so pompously entitled and almost pathologically adverse to taking personal responsibility, that would be a true bombshell.
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