rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

What does 'means' mean? Harper, the media and a growing scandal's unanswered questions

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com

The brief statements announcing the resignation of Stephen Harper's Chief-of-Staff Nigel Wright leave all the key questions in the Senate expenses scandal unanswered. 

In fact, Wright's statement raises new questions, especially this line: "I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy's expenses were repaid, either before of after the fact."

The obvious question here is, just what exactly does 'means' mean? Other questions easily come to mind, including: Did Harper direct Wright to deal with the Duffy problem by any means necessary? Did Harper know of, or approve of, a payoff of Duffy, before or after the fact, even if the prime minister had no knowledge of the 'means' involved? Does Harper think the payment was wrong? Is he mad this happened out of his office, under his nose? What did Harper know and when did he know it, or was he giving orders all along, complete with instructions to maintain plausible deniability? 

A recent blog by Elizabeth May raises more pertinent questions, as does this blog by David Climenhaga. There are many unanswered questions here. What's missing are any answers whatsoever from the government.  

But, while this scandal makes headlines around the world, no one from the Harper government, let alone the prime minister himself, has stepped forward to answer any questions about these urgent matters. Even the poor backbencher sent out to the TV talk shows in an attempt to stem the bleeding late last week was pulled off her assignment, cancelling appearances on Friday afternoon.

While Harper hid away from any and all questions over the long weekend, some of his key MPs and cabinet ministers sent out odes to the departed Mr. Wright. On Twitter Pierre Poilievre lamented, "Saddened to hear of Nigel Wright's departure. He is an honourable man, and great Canadian." Immigration Minister Jason Kenney joined in, tweeting, "Very sorry about Nigel Wright's resignation. Brilliant, decent man who made huge sacrifices to go into public service. We need more like him".

If this was calculated spin from the Conservatives, it was awfully confusing. If Everybody Loves Nigel, and if Nigel's integrity and judgement are equal to his half-marathon-a-day lung capacity, then why on earth would anyone believe that Nigel acted alone in making this ham-fisted and potentially illegal payoff to Senator Duffy? An in-depth, front page Globe and Mail profile published Saturday even says that inside the PMO staffers faced with a predicament would often ask themselves, "What would Nigel do?" From everything we know, what Nigel would surely not do is something this sketchy without some urgent implied or explicit directive from his boss. 

Michael Den Tandt wrote convincingly in the Ottawa Citizen

To suggest all of this occurred without the prime minister’s knowledge is simply not credible. Given the stakes, if Harper had no advance knowledge at all of the Duffy transaction -- as opposed to, say, no knowledge of "the means" -- would the PMO not be shouting that to the rooftops?

This hits the nail on the head. Harper is now suffering from implausible deniability. Kenney and Poilievre's rhetorical flourishes only add to the sense of incoherence and confusion. 

But it's as if Harper thinks he can just wait this out. And, given the way he's gotten away with his over-the-top restrictions on media access and questions in the past, maybe he can.

In Harper's Ottawa, media and political watchers have been reduced to little more than Kremlinologists, parsing brief statements from the PM for hints of meaning. (I'm using this analogy for fun, since Harper's ministers love to engage in bizarre, ahistorical red-baiting; and because, well, Harper's personality is somewhat Brezhnevian.)

 Harper's relationship with the media has now entered full-on tragicomic mode. Huffington Post Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj, appearing on CBC TV this weekend, deadpanned a hilarious and sadly accurate assessment of the prospects for a journalist asking Harper about the Wright resignation and related matters. Since Harper will be meeting his caucus Tuesday in Ottawa, and then flying off to Latin America, the prime minister "will have to face media, in Peru," so that these matters could be raised, "maybe in their two questions they will be allowed."

There you have it. With perhaps the most serious political scandal to hit Ottawa in years, we are reduced to hoping that an intrepid journalist in Lima or Bogota might be able to sneak in a question to Harper.

This situation in Canada represents a great leap backwards for democracy. The media cannot play its democratic role without means and opportunity to question the country's top decision-makers and elected officials. 

How bad is it? It's so bad that nobody seems to have even considered that, given this political storm, perhaps Prime Minister Harper should convene -- what are those things called again? -- a press conference, and maybe even one with more than a handful of pre-selected questions.

Actual media scrutiny is what is required when the highest office in the land is involved in dodgy, unethical and potentially illegal matters. Even Richard Nixon understood and conceded this point.

Take a look back at this short video clip from a press conference in 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal. Nixon's famous "I'm not a crook" line comes from this press conference, where the president was addressing and answering questions from a gathering of 400 journalists.

Even as things become otherwise Nixonian in Canadian politics, no one can even imagine a scene like this in Harperland.

This government's relationship with the media is a scandal in its own right. 

 

Image: citizenactionmonitor.wordpress.com 

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.