Canadians expect PM to act on his 2005 vow that cheaters go to prison.
by Ish Theilheimer
The Senate expense claim scandal keeps getting worse, and we've probably only seen and smelt the tip of the excrement-berg.
First, the public learned that two nationally-known and once-respected TV journalists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin stooped to bilk taxpayers for tens of thousands of dollars in addition to their six-figure salaries for the "taskless thank" of being appointed to the patronage hall-of-fame, the Canadian Senate.
Next, evidence revealed that Duffy was also double-dipping. He billed both the Conservative Party of Canada and the Senate for campaign travel in the 2011 federal election.
Then came the topper: news that the Prime Minister's wealthy chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave Duffy $90,000 out of his own pocket — even though the two barely knew each other — so Duffy could make restitution and make the problem go away. As we know, it didn't. Instead, Wright resigned as chief of staff in the quiet of the Victoria Day long-weekend.
Wright’s gifts actually increased Duffy’s problems. As a Senator, Duffy is obliged by law to report all gifts over $500. If Wright had written Duffy a personal cheque as a private citizen, even that would be questionable. But for him to do it in his capacity as Stephen Harper's fixer is particularly intolerable — not to mention nationally embarrassing, in that purportedly "smart" people like Wright and Duffy thought they could get away with this.
If you or I were to cheat the taxpayers of $90,000 through tax fraud or scamming EI or social assistance, we’d go to jail. Period.
On Wednesday night, Poilievre was on CBC's Power & Politics program with host Evan Solomon, as well as the NDP's Craig Scott and Liberal Ralph Goodale. Poilievre not only argued that Wright had done taxpayers a favour by paying Duffy's debt, he went further and praised him for the deed.
"Nigel Wright did an exceptionally honourable thing," Poilievre said. "He reached in to his own resources, wrote a personal cheque out of his own bank account to cover the costs of these ineligible expenses and to protect taxpayers."
But when he said Wright slipped Duffy the money, "because we didn't believe taxpayers should have to pay the cost and Mr. Duffy was not in a position to pay them himself," he gave the game away. Craig Scott immediately heard the word "we," which exposed what everyone in Canada had already guessed — that Harper's thumbprints are all over the payoff.
"I think this goes really, really deep," Scott said. "That the prime minister wouldn't know this sort of defies logic."
Politically conservative media greeted Poilievre's comments with fullsome scorn. Columnists such as Susan Sherring in the Ottawa Sun, John Robson of the Sun's Parliamentary Bureau and the Globe's Elizabeth Renzetti were more withering and harmful to Poilievre's career hopes than any progressive's vitriol.
“Bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison.”
Now, with Harper stonewalling on demands that he explain the Senate expense scandal’s contradictions and outrages, he is watching his personal political brand, predicated on honest, accountable government, disintegrate before his eyes. And one by one, rats are leaving or being thrown from his listing ship.
If you like to see bullies squirm and greed get its comeuppance, the next few weeks will be a lot of political fun. How far the rot from this scandal will reach within the Prime Minister's Office and the Senate — which still hasn't had a proper accounting — remains to be seen. How far new Liberal messiah Justin Trudeau will go to defend the Patronage Pit is an open question too.
Of course, for the NDP, which has long promised to abolish the Senate and is smarting badly from a whupping in BC, the timing couldn't be better. It's a real opportunity for Tom Mulcair to get his mojo back.
One thing this scandal proves is that Canadians are far from apathetic about politics or their government. Listen in at any coffee shop, dial into any phone-in, read any newspaper letters column. You will see that the public does care a great deal — and they don't care for this stink at all.© Copyright 2013 Ish Theilheimer, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca