Thursday, August 14, 2014

'Kryptonite Mike' versus 'Super Homer Harper'

Leger: Senators' court cases could be kryptonite

Dan Leger
Monday, August 4, 2014
Mike Duffy with family outside a Kensington PEI dog kennel last month. The Senate scandal will come back to bite the Tories writes Dan Leger. (Andrew Collins/Canadian Press)

If you’re a good and faithful Conservative, you must shudder just hearing that dirty word: Senate. After all, your party was supposed to make the Senate “elected” and “equal” and “effective” yet after eight years in power, that promise is officially “empty.”

For Conservatives, adding “expenses” or “Duffy” to a phrase that includes the S-word can induce apoplexy. Mike Duffy’s expense claims, his suspension from the Senate and the surrounding fallout are raining on their party’s 2015 election hopes.

That queasy feeling won’t be going away any time soon. In fact, the Senate scandal, with Duffy as the central character, is only starting to bite the Conservatives’ re-election chances.

The 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery are all serious criminal allegations, although none have been proven in court. But court is where the scandal is heading and not just for Duffy; former Liberal senator Mac Harb and suspended Conservative Patrick Brazeau were charged back in April.

Announcing the charges against Duffy on July 17, the RCMP said an investigation was continuing into “another Senate file,” an apparent reference to suspended Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin. So the potential exists for three simultaneous trials to be going on during the next election campaign, involving three of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Senate appointments. Harb’s case will simply add to the malodorous atmosphere.

At some point, hard evidence will start revealing what really went on inside the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative caucus as the scandal unfolded. Testimony in a court, with evidence from both prosecution and a defence with nothing to lose, is something even the mighty PMO can’t control.

It’s hard to see the testimony covering the Harper machine with glory. What we know so far points to a determined cover-up that reached into the highest offices of the land. Duffy’s lawyer says everything will be on the table at trial. Donald Bayne promises “when the full story is told, as it will be, and shown to be supported by many forms of evidence,” that his client will be absolved of criminal wrongdoing.

Some of that evidence will likely come from Nigel Wright, formerly the PMO chief of staff and Harper’s closest aide. His $90,000 bailout of Duffy’s expense claims lies at the heart of the Senate scandal.

Wright was not charged for giving Duffy a bribe, while Duffy has been charged with taking one. Legal experts suggest it would be difficult to prove that Wright benefited personally from the payment, at least under the Criminal Code definition of corruption. It might not be so hard to prove Duffy’s intentions.

There might also be tactical reasons to let Wright walk. The Crown can now call him to testify about the PMO machinations that Duffy claims are central to the scandal and to his misfortunes.

We know from RCMP documents that Wright and other top PMO officials were deeply involved in the Duffy matter. They negotiated with the senator and his lawyers for weeks over the payment and how to spin it to the public. Finally, Wright told his colleagues that the deal was complete and had the prime minister’s approval.

“We are good to go from the PM,” Wright said in an email, a statement that puts Harper right in the middle of the affair. It shows the PM knew about the deal and suggests Wright was operating with the full knowledge and consent of his boss.

Still, don’t expect to see Harper in the witness box. Like other MPs, he is protected by parliamentary privilege from that singular indignity. But that doesn’t mean his role won’t be a key part of the evidence.

Senators appointed by Harper stand accused. It was his staff that tried to cover up the scandal, with his apparent knowledge and approval. Trials turn accusations into facts. When the Senate trials get going, the facts might prove very uncomfortable for the governing party.

Dan Leger is the author of Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal.

About the Author

Dan Leger is a freelance journalist in Halifax.E-Mail:
Twitter: @dantheeditor


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