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.

Harper's stonewalling of the Senate scandal is about plausible deniability

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Let's talk today about "plausible deniability." The term apparently originated in the 1960s and referred at that time to CIA "black ops." It means that persons in power are to be protected from knowledge about illegal, unethical, immoral or politically damaging activities so that they may deny (without actually lying) having sanctioned these activities -- because, you see, they didn’t know about them.

It's a form of deception. If the denials hold, they are deemed to be plausible. If they don’t, the denier-in-chief will be accused of orchestrating a cover-up. That’s what happened with Watergate; it was the cover-up rather than the "third-rate burglary" that brought down Richard Nixon. And it's where we are now with the Senate expense scandal.

In money terms, Senate expenses very much constitute a third-rate scandal. But the cover-up is leading ever deeper into the most important office in the land, the Prime Minister's Office, where Stephen Harper is still in plausible-denial mode. He says knew nothing about the infamous $90,000 cheque that Nigel Wright, his chief of staff, wrote to Mike Duffy. Or almost nothing. Or not enough to piece together what was going on in his office or in the Senate -- even though roughly a dozen people in his entourage seemed to know.

Yes, he knew there was a Senate problem, because Duffy had told him about it. He knew Wright was trying to deal with it. He almost certainly knew about an earlier plan to use about $32,000 in Conservative party funds to bail Duffy out, because Nigel Wright says he briefed Harper on that, and, he says, got the PM's go-ahead.

When that plan failed -- after the amount climbed to $90,000 -- did Harper know that Wright was going to use his personal funds for Duffy? Perhaps he didn't; we don't know yet. We do know that Harper trusted Wright to make the problem go away. That's what loyal lieutenants are meant to do. And if the problem doesn't go away, the lieutenant is expected to fall on his sword. As he did.

Although they have not laid charges against anyone, the RCMP documents released last week allege that Wright committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust. But some legal experts think the Mounties are over-reaching. The Criminal Code, they say, requires evidence of corrupt intent. But was Wright acting corruptly, or was he simply trying on behalf of his boss to make a political problem go away? The law also says a benefit must be involved. There may have been a benefit to Duffy, but not to Wright who kissed goodbye to $90,000, knowing he would never see it again.

In last week's column, I advanced the hypothesis that the Conservatives would get re-elected in 2015 if they kept the government focused on economic recovery. That generated two types of reader response, both negative. In the first, readers argued that the Senate scandal has caused irreparable damage to the Harper brand, that the prime minister has painted himself into a corner from which he cannot escape. As these readers see it, the Tories might manage to return with a minority, but probably not.

According to the second school of thought, none of this matters, because Harper will be gone before the end of 2014. He's not likely to be forced out by his caucus, although discontent is growing. More likely Harper himself will decide that eight years (which it will be in January) is enough, that the chances of another majority are too slim to be worth the risk, and that a smart leader would get out while he is still on top and before forces that he cannot control -- auditors, police, courts, opposition parties and the media -- can do him further damage over the Senate scandal.

I'm not convinced by either school of thought. Instead, let’s give the last word to Nigel Wright, who predicted in one of his emails: "I think that this is going to end badly." Yep.

This column appeared in the Waterloo Record and Guelph Mercury.

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.