Landmark European trade deal be damned: Stephen Harper can’t seem to side-step controversy surrounding a $90,000 payment his chief of staff made to embattled Sen. Mike Duffy to cover the Harper appointee’s supposedly inappropriate expense claims.
Late last week, just after attending the Throne Speech, the Prime Minister jetted off to Brussels for a trip that seemed to be timed strategically to make him look… well, prime ministerial while diverting attention from the simmering Senate expense fiasco.
The trade deal, though, had been expected and was supported by all opposition parties and leaders in every region of Canada. It almost seemed as though those outside Harper’s party who offered laudatory comments about the trade deal shifted to condemnations over the Senate scandal even before drawing their next breath.
Duffy and his lawyer, John Ivison, gave them plenty of ammunition. On Monday (Oct. 21), Ivison said his client planned to fight any move to suspend Duffy and fellow senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau from the upper chamber. He said despite the fact that his client had been assured that his expense claims were within the rules, the Prime Minister’s Office had brokered the deal to have Wright cover Duffy’s expenses. Harper has repeatedly claimed he had no knowledge of the arrangement until after it made the news.
The next day, Duffy offered comments that appeared to draw Harper closer to the scandal. He claimed Wright and Harper had met with him personally on the matter and that Harper “wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. ‘It’s not about what you did, it’s about the perception of what you did that’s been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base,’” Duffy said, claiming the final portion to be a quote from Harper.
Also on Tuesday, Brazeau said — as has Duffy — that he was given tacit approval on his own living expenses.
It seems to this writer that a direct connection between the PM and a deal to sweep the Duffy affair under the rug would be a far more serious matter than any of the senators’ alleged indiscretions. Even if the PM had no direct involvement in the deal, the roles played by those so close to him can only be seen as a failure of his leadership.
— David Burke