CANADA’S HOUSE OF CARDS

I suppose it would be tempting to consider the Mike Duffy Saga as a Zero Sum Game—that there are proportionate winners and losers. But there have, in fact, been no winners.

Certainly not the embattled Senator. Contrary to op ed pieces appearing on ipolitics and elsewhere, Mike Duffy was in fact not vindicated nor exonerated. Being found “Not Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” and being declared “innocent” are very different pronunciations.

Although Justice Vallencourt found Duffy a credible witness and hard working, at no time was he deemed honourable, diligent in filing expense claims or even not opportunistic. Duffy’s reputation remains largely in tatters and given the financial strain of being suspended from the Senate without pay plus unknown legal bills, his relief at the verdict notwithstanding, he has suffered immeasurably.

The Senate as an institution has been severely discredited. An archaic institution, initially inhabited by persons of privilege so that no rules were required—Honourable Gentlemen, surely could be trusted. But when Canada’s aristocracy gave way to political hacks occupying the Red Chamber, nobody thought any accountability or financial oversight was required. One cannot be convicted of breaking rules that either do not exist or are too vague and nebulous to be meaningful.

Undoubtedly, the Court left its harshest criticisms for the Harper Prime Minister’s Office. In successive manoeuvers and scheming worthy of Netflix fictional President, Frank Underwood, PMO operatives were described as master manipulators, puppet and chess masters, ignoring all moral and legal considerations in pursuit of issues management.

This stunning rebuke was not stunning at all. Micromanaging Members of Parliament of both chambers, secret payments, sanitizing a Senate Audit, interfering with an Independent Audit and attempting to cover it all up, was just another day at the office for PMO staffers in the spring of 2013.

For in the early winter and spring of 2013, a lesser known member of the Conservative Caucus was waging his own battle against the “boys in short pants”. The caucus overwhelmingly supported my Private Member’s Bill providing disclosure of the salaries, bonuses and expenses of the most senior members of Canada’s public service including at the CBC. PMO policy advisors also supported the disclosure bill but in light of the unfolding Senate Expense Scandal, PMO Issues Management kyboshed this “misguided” attempt at transparency.

Exasperated staffers could not understand why a backbencher could not comprehend that a Prime Minister, under daily attack over Senate expenses, should not be further exposed to having to defend the salaries and expenses of senior civil servants. And when that unappreciative MP could not be persuaded to “take one for the team”, the chess masters went to work. Eviscerating amendments were introduced at Committee and then Members were substituted to make sure that the matter was decided by compliant team members, rather than by the regular Committee Members, who were being lobbied to save the Bill.

PMO staffers believe, or at least believed, that there is no moving part inside the Ottawa bubble beyond their reach and control. And because promotion within both the Senate and Commons Caucuses is predicated in large part on building up capital with the PM and within the PMO, the young zealots’ self promoting sense of omnipotence becomes actualized.
With all due respect to former junior minister Candace Bergen, who last week still claimed that she was not micromanaged by staffers at the PMO, she is either in denial or PMO staffers were so good at their jobs, that she did not realize she was being manipulated.

When I was in the caucus, I could measure with an egg timer the time it would take for PMO Issues Management to call and demand edits to any blog I posted that was even constructively critical of the Government. When logic failed them. PMO staffers were not beneath threatening an elected member with committee reassignment, not signing future Nomination Papers or even caucus expulsion, all in pursuit of properly managing “issues”.

Finally, the unmentioned loser in this entire debacle are the taxpayers of Canada. Not only do taxpayers pay for PMO staffers that serve not the public interest, but only the interest of the sitting prime minister, taxpayers are also on the hook for the entire dysfunctional Senate. Moreover, it appears that neither Duffy’s nor likely Senators Wallin’s or Brazeau’s disputed expenses will ever be repaid. Finally, taxpayers bear the entire cost of a trial that lasted forever: the Judge, the Court Reporters, Courthouse Security, and the Crown Prosecutors and RCMP Investigators who went 0 for 31.

I am afraid nobody benefited from the Duffy Expense Scandal, with the possible exception of Netflix producers, who might one day require plot lines for future episodes of “Houses of Cards”.

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