If one had asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the day he appointed a balding, bowling-ball shaped ex-journalist to the ranks of the Canadian Senate if he thought his decision would be mired in future regret, you would probably have gotten a dismissive wave and a ‘tisk, tisk’ from the bouncing boy from Alberta.
As our federal election floats serenely through its first month — we also have Mr. Harper to thank for an 11 week campaign — the haunting spectre of a political appointment gone dreadfully bad may be impacting the impressions of more voters than Harper would have ever dreamed possible.
With the Conservatives already trailing in the polls, well below the 39 per cent of the electorate that secured them a previous majority — the trial of disgraced senator Mike Duffy is not helping pull any election irons out of the fire for the Conservatives. With a whiff of impropriety involving the case swirling around the PMO (if not the prime minister himself) Duffy’s legal wranglings amidst an election campaign have not meant an encouraging boost to Conservative popularity.
On a just slightly lighter note, Duffy wasn’t the only ex-journalist appointed by Harper to the Canadian Senate that has ended up blowing significant egg back on the face of the Conservative Party. Former news anchor Pamela Wallin has also faced the sticky red pen of the expense watchdog and come up significantly short of smelling like roses.
Both appointees were supposed to be star Conservative candidates that turned into a nightmare scenario — one in a long line of unscrupulous hogs porking up to the public trough to immerse their filthy trotters in rivers of taxpayer cash.
Unfortunately, this whole fiasco has had unintended consequences for the reputation of the journalistic profession in Canada. When individuals supposedly dedicated to holding governments to account and ferreting out public abuse are found to be almost solely responsible for a scandal involving inappropriate use of public funds and fraudulent expense claims, it reflects badly on the whole profession.
The ongoing Duffy trial was probably not the focus the Harper team was hoping for as their campaign moves into the latter half of August. Still, if they believed their opposition enemies weren’t licking their lips with gleeful anticipation of seeing a Harper appointee’s dirty laundry (we apologize in advance to anyone who just had a mental image of Duffy’s drawers) dragged through open court followed by the harsh glare of media kleig lights, they didn’t know who they were dealing with.
It is, after all, the kind of political scandal — complete with hush-hush payouts near the top — that sometimes serves to sink an election campaign mid-stream faster than you can say ‘fraudulent expense claims’.
Harper, for his own part, has thus far been doing an admirable job at distancing himself from the details of the scandal. Although unstated, this tactic has a dual message that Harper would probably prefer not to put into words: are we expected to believe a $90,000 cheque cut by one of his staffers to help make Duffy’s expense problems go away wasn’t cleared with Harper first?
Despite some recent testimony to the contrary, many Canadians are having a tough time swallowing the idea that Harper knew nothing.
Focus, of course, has been centered on what Harper may (or may not) have known about the shady payout. Which tends to ignore the fact that regardless of his level of involvement, shouldn’t a prime minister — as a matter of course — have known about what was happening inside his own office?
We suggest that should be a pretty fundamental pre-requisite to holding one of the country’s highest offices, not to mention guiding the nation’s future.