Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Deja Harper

With much more of a whimper than a bang, Harper's three 'disgraced' Senators have been suspended from the Senate. No doubt, Conservative insiders are patting each other on the back and sitting back and assuming that this headache is finally about the pass.

But is it?

Recent polling data has shown that the government, and particularly the Prime Minister, have taken a hit in popularity. Harper's own personal credibility is in tatters, as many Canadians have stated that they do not believe Harper's chain of events. Perhaps the biggest success story here is what Mike Duffy accomplished when he returned to the Senate: He didn't make this issue about his expenses, he made it about Harper and his office.

Since Harper ascended to leadership, over people like Tony Clement and Belinda Stronach, he has always been seen as the 'control freak'. And it was understandable as to why.

Having effectively crushed the 'progressive' from Progressive Conservative, Harper knew that his party needed to reach out from its core base if it ever wanted to form government. And while it was certainly helped by the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal, it was Harper's meticulous approach to control that also helped propel him to power.

After all, we all remember the 'muzzling' of Conservative candidates. In Saskatchewan, outspoken pro-lifers Brad Trost and Maurice Vellacott often found themselves in hot water over speaking their minds during election campaigns. They gave soundbytes that often went national, and served as a gentle reminder to Canadians that the Conservative Party had some hard-right ideologues in it.

So, rather than stamp down the candidate, Harper muzzled them. No answers to reporters without it being 'approved' first. Avoiding public debate forums, or anywhere, where you could be ambushed into saying something that embarrasses the party. It's a strategy we continue to see, as I understand the current by-election in Toronto Centre has been plagued by Conservative candidate no-shows at forums...An approach the Liberal candidate is also using, it must be noted.

From that onset, we saw a leader who was obsessive over staying on point and ensuring complete control over his caucus. We know, it is well documented, that Stephen Harper is a control freak.

And so, when Harper stood up before the House of Commons to announce that he'd been deceived by his own office; people who have watched this Prime Minister since 2006 were understandably doubtful.

However, this is not the first time Stephen Harper has been misled.

Recall back to 2004, just before the fall of the Liberal Government. The budget bill was coming down, the Sponsorship Scandal was approaching full swing, and the Conservative opposition was looking to bring down Paul Martin by defeating the budget.

It was going to be a close vote, and the entire thing hinged around a single person: Independent MP Chuck Cadman.

Doug Finley and now disgraced former adviser Tom Flanagan met with Cadman in an attempt to convince him to vote with the opposition and bring down the government. On his deathbed, Cadman told his wife that the offer included a $1 million dollar life insurance policy for his support.

Conservatives have long denied this claim, even going as far as taking the Liberals to court for defamation (a suit which was later dropped without settlement paid to either side). At the heart of the suit was an audio tape by author Tom Zytaruk, who was writing a book on Cadman. Zytaruk brought up the question of the life insurance policy, prompting this answer from Harper:

"I don't know the details. I know that there were discussions,"

This was in direct contradiction to Harper's previous claim that he knew nothing about any offer, or that any offer was made to Cadman at all. Conservatives were quick to condemn the tape, suggesting that it had to be edited. However, one of the audio experts hired by Harper and Company found that the tape was not edited. More importantly, it found that the part containing the question about the life insurance policy was not edited; which was the part of the tape that Harper had contested.

And while Conservatives deny any offer was ever made to Cadman; James Moore said in the Commons that "There were three people at the meeting that we are talking about here and all three of them said that no offer was made."But this is starting to sound like Rob Ford's excuse of the wrong question being asked.

Cadman was made an offer, which the Conservatives have admitted to, outside of the life insurance offer. Cadman was to be welcomed back into the Conservative caucus, and his nomination was to be secured by the party for the next election. In addition to an uncontested nomination, Cadman would be targeted as a 'high priority' candidate for the party, and be privy to a high amount of financial support for his re-election campaign.

Jeez, why does all this sound familiar?

Oh, that's right, Mike Duffy and the Senate.

Like Finley and Flanagan, Nigel Wright made an offer to Duffy that Harper didn't know the details of. And according to the Conservatives, yet again,  there was no offer to Duffy or any kind of deal in place.

Yet, we have the the man at the centre offering a different story. Duffy and Cadman provided alternate versions of the story coming from Harper, his office, and his caucus.

Duffy, however, seems to have documents to at least cast a further shadow of doubt. Though, in fairness, one has to wonder if we shouldn't have given a lot more weight to the words of a man on his deathbed.

And again, according to Duffy's version, we see a deal in the works. A retaining of his Senate seat, a handling of kid gloves with the Deloitte audit, and the support of his Conservative colleagues.

There's a few things we can take away from the similarities in these stories.

Firstly, it would seem for a control freak, Stephen Harper makes horrible decisions when it comes to his inner circle. Finley, Flanagan, Wright, and numerous others have gone out of their way to keep the Prime Minister in the dark about unsavory details. Harper at least admits that Finley presented the deal of welcoming Cadman back into caucus, and a guaranteed election spot, but denied the life insurance claim.

Much in the same way he now denies knowing a single thing about Wright and Duffy's deal, despite the fact that more and more Top Conservatives are becoming embroiled in the scandal with each passing day.

Secondly, if anything, it shows what sort of culture Stephen Harper has fostered in his tenure as leader and Prime Minister. While the RCMP declined to press charges over the Cadman Affair, as there was no proof towards the life insurance claim, there is a question to be made over the offer that was made.

Which brings us to the Rob Ford "asking the wrong question" question. There is a strong case to be made that offering an independent MP an uncontested nomination, and high priority party financial support in the next election, exists as a direct violation of the Parliament of Canada Act. (Section 41, Articles 1, 2, and 3)

Had the Liberal complaint focused on the offer of a guaranteed nomination, as opposed to just focusing on the life insurance policy, would the outcome have been different for Finley and Flanagan? An interesting question, but one that will forever exist in the 'what if' category of life.

Finally, what we can really take away from this, is that the Harper Government has used the same kind of tactics over and over when they find themselves in political hot water. Protect Harper, deny his involvement, and lay the blame on the opposition whilst finding a staffer to throw under the oncoming bus.

And what we've seen, looking at the Cadman Affair, is that at the very least Harper always seems to know more than he's let on. Of course, the Cadman Affair died a quiet death after the 2008 election. Conservative court action kept the Liberals from using the Cadman Tape, or even mentioning it too loudly, during the campaign that saw Harper returned to power with a strengthened minority government.

The defamation case was settled, and since then we haven't heard a damned thing about it.

And that is the lesson we need to take away from this, above all else. The Conservatives have used the legal route to shut down their wrongdoings in the past, and have done so rather successfully one must admit. In a court case between Duffy and the Conservative Party, there is no guarantee that any details will make their way to light.

Worse, Duffy has now been robbed of his 'safe zone' for revealing his side of the story. Without Senate privilege, Duffy now risks libel, slander, and defamation suits if he names names and calls out anyone else involved. The Conservatives have not been afraid of litigation in the past, and it would seem to me, that they would be all to happy to induce Duffy's silence by threat of a lengthy, and costly, court process.

Canadians have a little under two years until we go to polls. An election wiped the Cadman Affair from the circuits of our memories, and that was just the tip of the iceberg showing the rot in the Conservative Party. Canadians have been denied the full story on numerous allegations against the Conservatives; from Chuck Cadman, the ETS Scandal, and now Duffy and his fellow Senators.

An election campaign does not erase the need for answers to be provided. History thus far, at least in seeing how the Conservatives deal with scandal, show that they have a lot of answer for. Canadians must demand those answers, and not allow this government to continue to tuck away the truth.

It is said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. There isn't anything said about those who are forcefully denied the truth of history, but I can only imagine what happens to people in that situation. Canadians deserve answers; the government answers to the people, not the other way around. And while suspending Duffy and the others has denied them due process, and a place to report their version of events free from litigation designed to slow them down, it has not delivered justice that any Canadian should be proud of.

This is not about Senate expenses; it is about the manner in which we expect politicians to act once elected, and how much truth and transparency we deserve by those who serve at our leisure. And right now, it seems like the truth be damned by our current government.

Government exists to serve the people, not the success of the party in power. And while denying, obscuring, and half-truths are good for the Conservative Party's future electoral fortunes; they are damning for the Canadian public.

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