I return, esteemed reader — in all likelihood before you’ve had a chance to miss me. But I feel I would be remiss if I did not comment on the heinous bloodbath taking place some 3,500 kilometres to the east. I speak of course of the spectacle taking place in the upper chambers of Parliament, that bastion of gentility and good manners — the Senate.
Now, I realized quickly after I arrived in the west — some 16 years ago which makes me as rank a newcomer as one could be — that westerners, East Kootenayans, Kimberlites and Cranbrookians, prefer their political bloodsport closer to home. They — dare I say we after living here such a short measure of time? — much enjoy watching the political maneuvering and, at times, backbiting, of local and provincial politics and then dissecting said maneuvers over a latte or perhaps a beer at one of the local meat draws.
We westerners — yes, I have adopted the we despite my short tenure — tend to look at those who choose to dwell on the wrong side of the Rockies with a faint bewilderment. Why would you want to live there, when you could live here? And with no good answer to such a simple question, we turn our backs and get on with life on the correct side of the mountains.
But what is taking place this month in the Senate requires some attention, if only because its theatrical aspects. It has all the angst of a Shakespearean tragedy — foul deeds, revenge, a complex plot, heroes and villains. Actually, as the drama unfolds it becomes apparent there are no heroes, but there are villains aplenty.
Long considered to by most to be a sedate, almost somniferous Chamber where politicians, and friends of politicians, are gently put out to pasture, to pass their final days rubber stamping bills produced in the House of Commons, the Senate this week was the site of such turmoil, such desperate scrambling, such sheer gall, that it managed to reach over the Rockies and catch the attention of those of us in the West.
We have several Senators caught up in an investigation of improper expenses, and let’s be clear, it is not just Conservative Senators. There are Liberal Senators, like Senator Mac Harb, on the list as well. But it just so happens that three of the highest profile of those being investigated are Conservatives, or at least began as Conservatives and then quit the caucus to sit as Independents until this mess is cleared up. I speak of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. The allegations are improperly claimed expenses, for such things as second homes that some appear to rarely ever visit.
But at the heart of the matter is a $90,000 cheque written to Senator Duffy by the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright — who fell on his sword and resigned in the early days of this brewing scandal. Wright said he did not advise the Primer Minister of this payment. Prime Minister Harper says he did not become aware of the payment until May 15, when the story broke.
But this week, Duffy told the Senate that he met with both Harper and Wright to discuss the issue last February. Duffy says the Prime Minister told him to repay his expenses, worried about how the issue would play with the conservative base. Harper denies ever saying it was about perception.
The entire mess hangs on one unknown. Did the Prime Minister know about the cheque to Duffy? There is no doubt the Prime Minister’s Office, the PMO, was heavily involved, but did Harper himself have knowledge of it?
Duffy never did come right out and say Harper was party to the conversation about the cheque. He skirted it, he came close to it, but he never actually said it.
Last week, Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin all spoke to the Senate, in hearings over their potential expulsion. They begged for due process and for their jobs and health care benefits. They pointed their fingers at fellow Senators, accusing them of bringing out the long knives on behalf of the PMO.
It was a repellent, yet strangely compelling spectacle. And it has caught Prime Minister Harper in its web as surely as the most tenacious spider. Nothing, not even a huge trade deal with Europe, has had the ability to shake the Opposition, or the press, off the subject. Has Canada’s teflon man finally run into something that penetrates the surface?
Carolyn Grant is Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin