If Stephen Harper wants to operate a quasi-criminal enterprise on the public dime then he has to take full responsibility for it.
The Prime Minister's Office is his and his alone. He decides who works there and he decides what they do or don't do. It is funded from the public purse but is accountable to no one save the prime minister.
The Harper PMO is not only unaccountable, it's opaque. What goes on in there goes on behind closed doors. There is no transparency whatsoever at least until something leaks out or erupts. In other words, it's perfectly designed for corruption. It is the ideal vehicle for someone like Stephen Harper to have done what he cannot risk being caught doing himself.
In the wake of the latest scandal there was utter shock in the media about the resignation of Harper chief of staff, Nigel Wright. The universal take on Wright was that he was the ultimate straight arrow, a great guy. That might have been true, at least before Wright became entangled with the Harper PMO but then everything changed.
Put it down to the culture of corruption that inevitably emanates from the Grand Corrupter himself, the prime minister. Stephen Harper is the poster boy of sociopathy. He is a ruthless and amoral character who refuses to accept restraint or responsibility. He showed us he was bent at the outset when he removed portraits of the prime ministers of Canada from the foyer of the House of Commons and replaced them with photographs of himself, the narcissistic hallmark of a sociopath. In his daily life he shows a cold, detached demeanour and an utter lack of conscience. His two most frequently observed character traits are mean-spiritedness and vindictiveness. Stephen Harper does not play well with others nor does he play by the rules which is why an organization like the PMO will inevitably devolve into a criminal enterprise.
The current scandal is a three-part affair. The minor scandal deals with the Cavendish Cottager. The intermediate scandal lies in the Senate itself and the Conservative senators who control it and have allowed it to be corrupted. The major scandal lies in the Prime Minister's Office through which Stephen Harper has pulled the strings in all three scandals. Follow those strings back and you're sure to find them in Harper's very own hand, or at least you might but for his cut-out, his font of plausible deniability, his PMO.
Mike Duffy was Stephen Harper's pick to serve as a senator for Prince Edward Island. The statutes were clear enough. Duffy obviously wasn't "resident" in Prince Edward Island as stipulated but rules, for Stephen Harper, are inconveniences to be circumvented or bent when necessary. In this way a clear, statutory requirement was treated as an irrelevant formality.
Duffy was a loyal and energetic servant of his Master. He was a fundraising machine. In his many appearances across the country, when Duffy spoke he usually did it with the venom of the man he served. He really dished out the ridicule. Harper must have loved it. Of Harper's many Senate appointments, Duffy was the highest-profile by far.
Then arose a controversy about certain senators and their expenses, particularly extra housing allowances claimed by senators who seemed to be resident in Ottawa, Duffy foremost among them. The rules, bent by Harper at the outset, were now to be examined, tested. This promised to be not only bad news for Duffy but a huge embarrassment for the prime minister. A little string pulling would be in order.
When the Senate appointed independent auditor, Deloitte, to review the suspect senators, their claims and status, the PMO brought Duffy in-house. As Duffy's unfortunate e-mails of the time indicate, he was given a 3-part deal. He would be given the cash to clear his Senate tab, to reimburse the expenses he had improperly claimed. He was ordered to stay silent and not cooperate with the auditors. "They," as in Stephen Harper, would intervene with the Senate committee and see to it that their report on Duffy "went easy" on him.
Three pieces, sublimely corrupt - an under the table payment, subversion of an audit process and manipulation of a Senate committee. Now tell me that was Nigel Wright's doing.
It all worked. Duffy dutifully handed the Senate someone else's cash. Duffy spurned the requests of the independent auditors for information and documents. The Senate committee, or at least the Tories in charge of it, laundered the report, removing in particular the damning finding that Duffy was not nor ever had been since childhood resident in Prince Edward Island.
And it all worked, right up until one or more dissidents, believed to be from the Senate, began feeding information and documents to a CTV parliamentary reporter.
The leaks seemed staged in such a way as to elicit denials or admissions that tied the principal actors to their stories. Layer by layer leaks were fed to the CTV reporter as the cement hardened around the feet of Duffy and Nigel Wright. The final straw was the leak to the CBC of the original Senate report on Duffy that, read in the context of the official version, revealed how the Tories who controlled the committee had been compromised, corrupted. The story of just how that happened is still to come out and may be the most telling of all.
When Stephen Harper addressed the Conservative Parliamentary caucus on Tuesday morning, he displayed all the aplomb that might be expected of a sociopath in his circumstances. He took no responsibility whatsoever. He portrayed himself as the victim and blamed the whole mess on everyone else, right up to and including the top staff in his own PMO.
Curiously, he didn't seem to single out Duffy. Why not? After all he was spreading the blame pretty thick on everyone and anyone else he could think of. Presumably because Duffy can't be scapegoated lest people ask too many questions about his "special handling" throughout this affair. Duffy also probably knows too much, the sort of stuff that could dissolve Harper's plausible deniability of his role in all three scandals. For this is Harper's doing, front to back, start to finish, and it reveals him to be utterly corrupt, head to toe.
Harper isn't going to bring in fresh blood to the PMO, not at this point when so much is at stake. He can't trust new people. That's why he fell back on his principal secretary, Novak, his young but fiercely loyal confidante.
It is right that Harper doesn't have to account or report on the activities of the Prime Minister's Office. The PMO can't function without plenty of privacy. It is a partisan agency and every prime minister needs that to do the job. But a PMO that has no accountability is a PMO, just like Harper's, that is ripe for corruption. That's why prime minister Harper must be held personally responsible for everything that comes out of his PMO, good and bad alike. He doesn't get to play victim and point fingers. The skullduggery that goes on inside his personal enclave is his, in full.
Harper lost any benefit of the doubt after the Bruce Carson scandal. From that point on he had a special obligation to stay on top of his PMO and ensure nothing like that happened again. Even if you're willing to accept his absurd claim that he knew nothing of the Wright-Duffy dealings, it doesn't matter. That's on Harper, squarely on him.
As Stephen Harper said of then prime minister Jean Chretien: "He is the leader and a leader is responsible for the actions of the people he leads. If he had a right or honourable bone in his body, he'd admit that and resign immediately."
Well put, Steve.