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Many in the national Canadian media suddenly seem to have dropped their critical distance with regard to Prime Minister Harper’s responses to the Senate scandal.
The majority of media folks have given Harper glowing reviews for his performance in Wednesday’s question period, during which he stood in his place and appeared to forcefully answer all questions.
But it will take more than loudly declaiming “you’re darn right” for the Prime Minister to get away from the multiple contradictions and inconsistencies in the Conservative story.
For instance, the Prime Minister seemed to have a good moment when he raised himself to his full stature and intoned, with what one might almost take as sincere indignation:
“The victims here are the Canadian people… It is not appropriate for people to claim an expense that they really did not incur even though they think they can technically argue it is somehow within the rules. That is not proper.”
That sounded awfully tough and strong.
Of course, it was, perhaps, a tad disingenuous, coming from the man who, for many weeks last winter and spring, kept repeating that he had personally seen Senator Wallin’s expenses and found them to be in order.
And that was the same man who, when news broke of Nigel Wright’s $90,000 payment on behalf of Senator Mike Duffy, came close to nominating his Chief of Staff for the Order of Canada.
The Prime Minister’s first line of defence on the $90,000 kerfuffle was to say that it was a generous gesture on Wright’s part to spare the taxpayers all that expense.
Harper only changed his mind when that “Conservative base” — for which we have learned he has such over-weaning solicitude — began to rumble angrily.
Senators must ‘be resident’ of the provinces they represent
Earlier in Wednesday’s question period, the Prime Minister inadvertently opened the can of worms which is, in many respects, at the heart of the never-ending Senate controversy.
Harper, in effect, referred to his own questionable judgment in naming two Senators who were in no common-sense way “resident” of the provinces they were supposed to represent.
We have pointed out, in this space, that the original Canadian Constitution, the British North America Act of 1867, is quite clear on that point.
It says that a Senator must own at least $4,000 worth of property in the province she/he represents; and, in addition, must — in the exact words of the constitution — “be resident” in that province.
Both requirements apply, not just the property one.
And so, when Stephen Harper answered a question about Duffy by saying “when we name senators, we ensure that they fit the eligibility criteria for the Senate,” what exactly did he mean?
In what sense does the Prime Minister believe that folks who do not, in fact, live in a province they are to represent nonetheless fit the “eligibility criteria” for the Senate?
We have yet to get an answer to that very basic question.
The fact is that because the Prime Minister considered him constitutionally “eligible” to represent Prince Edward Island in the Senate, Mike Duffy thought he could turn his island vacation residence into his notional permanent one. Doing that, he believed, allowed him to consider his longstanding home in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata to be his secondary National Capital digs.
That’s why Duffy believed he could claim expenses for the Kanata house.
Duffy was was not alone in that belief.
It seems the constitutional experts in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative Senate leadership agreed with him. Duffy told the Senate on Tuesday that they approved his expense claims on that basis.
Does anyone still believe Wright really ‘acted alone?’
At another point during Wednesday’s question period the Prime Minister let slip a statement that contradicts a point he has emphatically made in the past.
The issue was whether Nigel Wright “acted alone” on the notorious $90,000 gift, or whether other Conservative Party or government officials were involved.
The question came from NDP leader Tom Mulcair: “On June 5 and 6, when I asked the Prime Minister whether Ray Novak was involved in the Duffy affair, the Prime Minister said that Nigel Wright acted alone. Was that true?”
In his answer, Harper appeared to have misunderstood the question, although that may have been an intentional “misunderstanding.”
Note carefully that Mulcair was not asking the Prime Minister whether or not Ray Novak was involved.
The Opposition Leader merely referred to Novak to give context to his more general question, which was: Was the Prime Minister speaking the truth, in June, when he said Nigel Wright acted alone?
“Mr. Wright has been absolutely clear in terms of who he told he intended to repay Mr. Duffy’s expenses to,” Harper replied.
In alluding to folks whom Wright “told” about the $90,000 Harper in effect admitted that he had been less than forthright in June. His statement on Wednesday was tantamount to admitting that Wright had not acted alone.
Harper tried to muddy the issue by throwing in the non sequitur that if “others” were, indeed, involved in the $90,000 caper, Ray Novak (currently the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff ) was not one of them:
“[Wright] did not say Ray Novak was one of those people. He has named those people…”
Now, let’s pause for just one second here.
Either Wright “acted alone” or he acted in concert with other people, people whom Harper now says Wright has, in fact, “named.”
What happened to Harper’s earlier claim that Wright acted alone?
Can the Prime Minister’s answer on Wednesday and the assertion he made in June (that Mulcair quoted on Wednesday) both be true?
That would defy logic.
But if truth is the first victim of war, it seems that logic is the first victim of the kind of desperate political gamesmanship Harper is engaged in these days.