One piece of the constantly unfolding Senate/PMO scandal has the communications whizzes in the PMO coaching Senator Mike Duffy in a lie about the now notorious $90,000 payment.
Duffy was to say he borrowed the money from a bank. It actually came from the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. (Or, so we are told. Canadians have not, in fact, seen the cheque.)
Giving politicians "media lines" is what communications people are paid to do, and they do it just about every day.
On Tuesday, the same gang that coached Duffy seemed to be at it again.
On the face of it, the PMO communications mavens appear to be the authors of these -- written, prepared -- words that Government Senate Leader Claude Carignan carefully read right after the vote to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau.
"The misconduct of these three Senators called for firm action and that is what we have taken. Unfortunately, Trudeau’s Liberals continue to defend the status quo and condone the action of these senators. We will look forward to now focussing on priorities that matter to Canadians, including jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity."
The 49 year old former small town mayor looked none too comfortable parroting these obviously prepared lines.
But he did as he was bidden, as did most of his colleagues when it came to the vote.
An unprecedented move, with no due process
We cannot know what kind of dangerous precedent that vote might have set. What is clear is that the sanctions imposed on the three Senators were based on no clear Senate rules, and that suspensions of this sort have never before occurred in the entire history of Canada.
Plus, what we’re dealing with here are not really suspensions. They are, in effect, expulsions.
The Senate news release announcing the votes says: "They [the three Senators] are suspended until such time as the suspension is rescinded."
After the vote, lonely Conservative dissenter Senator Hugh Segal explained what that means: "In order for [Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau] to be returned, you’d have to have another motion in this place under a subsection of the thing that passed, and I think the numbers that we now have are quite indicative of where that would be. So I think this is essentially an expulsion with no pay..."
Segal says he fought the good fight and lost, but remains deeply concerned about the lack of due process.
"In every single judicial process we have -- administrative, labour relations -- there’s always a right of appeal," Segal told reporters. "This was a decision that had no right of appeal..."
Harper is still the central figure
Few Canadians may be moved by Segal’s concern for due process, or by Senator Roméo Dallaire’s fear of the dangerous precedent this arbitrary action sets.
The Official Opposition NDP will definitely not waste any political capital fretting about the shabby treatment meted out to three unelected members of a chamber they seek to abolish.
But nor will the NDP want Canadians to think the scandal is all over now.
The Party will still seek to dig out the truth about the Prime Minister’s involvement, especially in the protracted discussions and negotiations with Mike Duffy that led to the $90,000 debacle.
If the RCMP, or anyone else, can establish that over-eager PMO communications minions actually advised a sitting Senator to lie, and aided and abetted him in that lie, it is hard to imagine such information would not severely damage Stephen Harper.
Duffy has said there is an email trail that backs up his story. But as interesting as the emails he released last week are, they do not deal with the coaching-to-lie part of the story.
Until emails about the PMO’s involvement in that lie, or some other damning information, come to light, the Opposition will be shadow-boxing with the Prime Minister.
From here on in, Harper’s line will be that the three Senators have received their just deserts, despite the best efforts of the Trudeau Liberals to thwart that justice. Now, he will be free to say, it is time to get on to more important business.
The fact is, though, that Harper was the originator, the Prime Mover, of the whole affair.
He is the one who appointed two Senators who did not live in the provinces they were to represent.
He did it knowingly and in flagrant defiance of the law and the Canadian Constitution.
Opposition members, especially NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, have put lots of tough and probing questions to the Prime Minister.
There is one question, however, they have not yet tried, and it is a very basic one:
Could the Prime Minister explain why he appointed Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to the Senate to represent P.E.I. and Saskatchewan when he knew they both lived in Ontario?
The BNA Act requires that a Senator be a resident of the province he or she represents, and the Prime Minister has said that Senator Duffy, for example, was wrong to charge expenses for his Ottawa home because he is a fulltime resident of Ottawa not P.E.I.
If that is true, how could the Prime Minister ever have considered Mike Duffy to be a resident of P.E.I. -- or Pamela Wallin of Saskatchewan -- for the purpose of occupying a Senate seat?
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