Top Left: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Senator Pamela Wallin, Bottom Left: Nigel Wright (Former Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister), Senator Mike Duffy
It’s quite something to see Stephen Harper sweat. He’s not a man who suits a muggy underarm. And you just know that under that mushroom cap of hair he has a 1970s sweatband, soaking up all the excess moisture so he doesn’t drip on television.
Of course, he has good reason to sweat. The scandal in the Senate has exposed the dark side of his government. Harper prides himself on having an iron grip on everything around him. And yet, suddenly, he wants Canadians to believe that he did not know what Nigel Wright, his Chief of Staff, was doing with the PMO chequebook.
The Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff according to the government’s own website is responsible for “managing, administrating and co-ordinating the activities of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The Chief of Staff has virtually uninhibited access to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers ... providing policy advice, information gathering, communications, planning, and strategizing.”
That sounds pretty cozy. Mike Duffy, one of the Conservative senators accused of cheating taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, claims Mr. Wright, Harper’s Chief of Staff, provided him with two cheques – one to pay off the amount he illegally claimed as expenses, and the second to pay his legal bills. Harper says he didn’t know anything about the cheques, or what Wright was doing.
Harry S. Truman, President of the United States from 1945 to 1953, had a sign on his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here.” What it meant was that as the leader of the nation he was ultimately responsible for making the decisions and was also responsible for what those beneath him got up to in his name.
Stephen Harper should have a sign made for his desk saying, “The Buck Stops Anywhere I Can Put It.” Like “General” Jack Nicholson played in A Few Good Men, either Harper ordered the code red or he didn’t. Our Prime Minister can’t have it both ways. Either he’s in charge, or he isn’t.
What’s really making Harper sweat is looking ahead two years to when Canadians next go to the polls. At first, he thought he could divert our attention away from the Senate scandal by signing an agreement in principle with the European Economic Community. Canadians couldn’t care less. Then he tried giving the beleaguered Senators his full support, believing that the media, who are just a little afraid of him, would take that as a clear signal to back off.
When the media didn’t stop picking at the scab, and the RCMP decided to get involved, Harper, unlike Truman, threw the money laundering Conservative senators under the bus. The problem is those senators will not go quietly in the night.
Each week Mike Duffy manages to come up with another bombshell that shows how high the cover-up goes, the floodwater inching ever closer to the Prime Minister’s neatly pressed pant legs. And Pamela Wallin, bless her, the Senate’s Saskatchewan Everywoman, has dug her high heels into Parliament Hill and is determined to fight the good fight. Wallin, an ex-journalist like Duffy, should know it’s time to wrap her Gucci cloak around her shoulders and head for the nearest ice floe.
Harper obviously didn’t expect the Senators to betray his office’s cloak and dagger dealings. If the media are a little afraid of him, his caucus members live in mortal terror that he’ll turn his Great Pumpkin head their way. He also didn’t anticipate a RCMP investigation, or a review by the Auditor General.
Greg Weston, a political analyst with the CBC, calls the Senate scandal and cover-up the Conservatives’ worst political crisis since Harper became prime minister in 2006. A survey by Ekos Research shows that Harper’s approval rating is at the lowest level ever (25%), and that 77% of Canadians don’t believe Harper’s version of what happened with Duffy and the secret cheques.
No wonder the man is sweating.
Perhaps, if he plays his cards right, he’ll be able to join Pamela on her ice floe.