Friday, May 24, 2013

It's Time to Rein In the Prime Minister's Office

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.  


rumleyfips said...

Something gets left out of most narratives. Harper let Duffy keep the swag.

Duffy scammed $90k+.
Duffy got caught telling porkies.
Nigel gave Duffy a $90k get out of jail free cheque.
Duffy gave LeBreton the cheque, the report was laundered, the bad people were shut up and Duf gets to drink happily ever after.
Duffy is happy with hia job , the perks and the $90,000 bonus for filing fraudulant claims.

Owen Gray said...

It's telling isn't it, Mound, how what Stephen Harper has said about others has come back to haunt him.

But I suspect he has no sense of irony.

Scotian said...

Well reasoned, well laid out, well said. I couldn't have said it better myself. You are entirely correct about the need for the PMO to be out of the public light to operate, just as you are that because such is needed that the ultimate accountability for what it does *HAS* to rest in the person of the Prime Minister directly. Part of what has always infuriated me with Harper and his "lickspittles" out there is how they relied on the lack of awareness in the wider public of basic civics and process structures/requirements where governing was concerned (assuming that they themselves even knew, although I think at least some had to, if only to know exactly how to corrupt and defeat them), as has been seen many times over. Being something of a process geek in politics this has been an exceptionally frustrating thing for me, as well as having been one of the brightest early warning lights of just how dangerous and bad for Canada Harper and his government could and now has proven to have been for this nation.

Thank you for being someone that gets that and writes so well about it, it is nice not feeling alone about caring about the underlying process and its importance beyond any partisan concerns for leader/party/ideology. For without a strong structure and process to channel power responsibly there can be no good government regardless of whose government it is. Where Harper has always been the greatest threat was to process because he clearly does not believe that rules and laws apply to him and his goals, and are only important when they trap his foes. While I am not comfortable going as far as you in calling him sociopathic, I can sadly see where you have a basis to be doing so based on his actions even more than his words over the years. That I should be able to say that of *ANY* party leader let alone Prime Minister truly shocks and horrifies me (and no this is not empty rhetoric, it is a true thing for those that think I am just using colourful language, I'm not, this really isn't something I ever expected to say of a national Canadian political leader let alone PM, I've disagreed with leaders and PMs in the past while still seeing their humanity in full bloom, Harper is something entirely different that way), and shows just how far down the rabbit hole we have gone without noticing it as a collective society IMHO.

Scotian said...

Owen Gray:

Modern NA conservatives have become masters of projectionism it seems, so I find it entirely apt that Harper demonstrates such a mastery of it. That he would be unaware of it would also come as no surprise, his is a head space I would find terrifying to live in/with, the paranoia alone would be more than I could take. When you consider this comes from someone that grew up under intense and abusive bullying and as an adult has been living with health issues that could cause fatality with little warning this should say something. I am accustomed to living with the darker sides of the human soul, yet I still find a lot of light to life, I am not so sure Harper is so capable going by his part words and deeds.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't know. Have we regressed into a "post-accountability" era in which form always trumps substance, appearance is everything, and memory wanes and expires on the lunar cycle? If so, we have become not a society but a herd to be corralled and penned and prodded in this direction or that.

How many times have we been warned of the perils of the internet and social networking era to our privacy and on from that to the balance of our political rights and freedoms? Is it any wonder today that such vast economic and political power is shifting from the many to the few?

Look at the corruption in today's "bought and paid for" U.S. Congress and the astonishing tolerance for it among the American public. They may grouse but they ultimately acquiesce to their political and economic disenfranchisement. For what could be more invaluable to the corrupt than indifference to corruption?

The change in just the course of two decades is alarming. We, as a people, reviled the corruption of the Mulroney government which went from a massive majority to winning just two seats in the subsequent election. It didn't even have party status after that.

At least in Mulroney's government the corruption was pure avarice. In this government it manifests as an assault on democracy itself, something far worse by an order of magnitude. And where is the public outrage today?

Anonymous said...

What about the fact that when Tkachuk called the PMO about the report (which was supposed to be a secret matter anyway), that he got this reply:

"the prime minister's office was very concerned about this. They don't like this scandal going on. It was hurting us politically, " Tkachuk told Maclean's.

Isn't it something of a scandal that a Senator can so brazenly reveal that the PMO is acting primarily in the interest of the Party and that neither the Senator nor the media find that the least bit remarkable?

The Mound of Sound said...

Tkachuk was Grant Devine's bum boy during the days of the Great Saskatchewan Corruption. At least there's some consistency in the Conservative ranks.

Anonymous said...
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Alison said...

Excellent piece.

One small thing - I believe that quote widely attributed to Harper was actually written by Kev at The Woodshed about Nixon in March 2012 and he didn't attribute it to Harper.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks, Alison, I'll try to check that out.

deb said...

thanks for such a clear analysis. You really should be the next chief of staff, you could clean up that corruption in an afternoon with your razor sharp mind:)

Anonymous said...

"The universal take on Wright was that he was the ultimate straight arrow, a great guy."

The far right take on Wright is predictably positive. In reality, he is just another choir boy who was rogered on the altar of corporate fascist ideology.

Anonymous said...

What works in a Democracy, does not work in a Dictatorship. If Canada was a Democracy, Harper would have been flung in prison long ago. Doesn't anybody get, we have no rights.

We have a monster of a Dictator P.M. giving this country, to Communist China. Harper's Omni-Bull-S-Bill gives Red China permission to sue Canada if, anyone blocks Red China's takeover of Canada. China sued in BC to take the mining jobs. Over 300 BC miners applied for the 200 mine jobs, Harper gave Communist China. Chinese miners earn, $800 per month. There are nine mines and mine expansions, going into Northern BC. Who do you think, Harper will give those jobs to?

With Harper's FIPA deal with Communist China? We don't even know how much of Canada, Harper has signed over to Communist China? What part of that, don't people get?

I signed the petition against, Harper's treacherous FIPA deal with Red China

Anyong said...

We definitely need a form of Impeachment regarding misconduct on the part of the Canadian PM which can be called upon by the opposition, disgruntled members of Parliament or the voting people of Canada. Also, the PM should serve only one five year term. Being PM of this country is not a job but an honour and as such should not be ensconcment time. The President of South Korea serves a five year period and it works very well....for those who don't know S. Korea is a democratic country with a Senate and has a system of Impeachmemt. In Canada the Governor General doesn't get it as he has less power than the PM...shameful

The Mound of Sound said...

Impeachment would be tricky, Anyong. How do you prevent it from becoming an abused tool of partisan politics? A vote in the Commons? Would the Governor General have the power to rescind a sitting prime minister's appointment and designate another instead?

As for South Korea and its history of democracy, let's not get carried away.

I have mixed thoughts on term limits. If the public places great confidence in an individual, particularly in times of crisis or emergency for example, why should they not be allowed to keep that person in office?

Saskboy said...

Alison is right about the quote at the end. A lot of people mistook it as actual Harper words.

Saskboy said...

Here is Harper video with similar, but legit gold to use instead.