Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in August that he wasn’t planning to appoint any new senators in the near future.
No doubt his resolve has been strengthened in recent weeks. His appointments of Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau to the Senate, at least of late, have not gone well for him. Now, Harper must distance himself from the people he once recommended to an institution he’d like to do away with.
He must also persuade Canadians that actions of the Office of the Prime Minister have only a tenuous connection to the prime minister himself.
Harper is now claiming that former-journalists Duffy and Wallin – previously valued fundraisers for the Conservative party – and their colleague Brazeau are guilty of abusing the public purse. That’s why he’s fully behind the senate resolution to suspend the three without pay or benefits – even though many have argued such punitive suspensions violate due process.
But Harper must recognize there is also a perceived gap in his own credibility. He denied, when the scandal surfaced, that he was involved in Duffy’s repayment of unjustified living expenses, but his tune has been changing as the embattled senators voice their side of the story. Their accounts allege backroom deals to cover up the scandal, followed by threats from the PMO and senate colleagues to repay the expenses and, subsequently, to resign to avoid further embarrassing the party.
Now, Harper says he did tell Duffy – in front of his caucus – to repay the money claimed, although he categorically denies Duffy’s account of a private meeting between himself, Duffy and former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright to discuss it. In response to questions about Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Duffy to cover the repayment, Harper – who previously said Wright “resigned” – now says Wright was “dismissed” for his lapse of judgment.
Critics say Harper has seriously mishandled the Senate-expenses affair by hewing to a familiar line of stonewalling in hopes the scandal would simply die quietly.
No chance of that now.
While it’s clear the self-serving excuses of Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau have not rehabilitated them in the public eye, Harper should realize they have raised serious questions about his own credibility.
It’s time for all the parties – including the prime minister – to testify under oath to get to the truth.