Harper government gets off the hook in both criminal investigations against it

Mike_Duffy

Back in April, Prime Minister Harper dodged a big bullet.  Though this didn’t get the exposure that the dropping of an investigation into the conduct of Harper’s former chief of staff, Australian millionaire and mining magnate, Nigel Wright, should have received, the story must have come as a huge relief for a Conservative administration that had been desperately trying to distance itself from the scandal.  But the news came as a massive disappointment for those (yours truly, included) that were convinced that Wright’s attempts to manage the crisis involving Senator Duffy’s illegitimate housing expenses had crossed a red line.

A brief reminder might be instructive at this point.  Wright had been accused of signing a 90K cheque for Senator Duffy, after the Duff- man had been discovered claiming expenses for a secondary residence in Prince Edward Island that he apparently hardly every used.  This violated any number of rules both ethical and legal, and seemed to be a breach of the Parliament of Canada Act , section 16 of which states that it is an indictable offence to offer a sitting member of Parliament money for the purposes of influencing any “claim, controversy, arrest or other matter before the Senate.”

The RCMP had previously been investigating whether the behaviour of Wright was a breach of  trust, bribery or fraud under the criminal code as well, but have, to the surprise of almost every legal observer, decided not to peruse the matter due to a lack of evidence of any criminality.  If the Mounties had gone down the route of using the Parliament Act, they wouldn’t even have needed to prove intent on Wright’s part, making the threshold for proving guilt easier than under the criminal code.  In the end, they opted to do nothing.  I can’t help smelling something fishy here and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  We will have to wait to see the full case against Wright when the RCMP releases the details, but in my opinion our Federal police force and their Commissioner  Bob Paulson has some serious explaining to do on this one.

This does not mean the end of Duffy’s legal woes however, or for that matter, Wright’s.  Duffy is still under investigation and may still face criminal charges.  As a matter of fact, Wright may be called upon as a witness by the Mounties to testify against the man whose skin he was trying to save, in due time (awkward!).  But for now, Wright felt confident enough to release a statement through his lawyers (always a sure sign of innocence, by the way) proclaiming his vindication and repeating the idiotic line that he was merely trying to protect the taxpayer from having to pay for Duffy’s fiscal fraud.

As for Duffy, it looks like he is not only suspected of robbing the taxpayer through expense fraud but also handing out bogus government contracts to buddies , such as Mr. Gerald Donohue , to the tune of $64,916.50,  in return for  providing advice on such lofty matters  as being “Conservative and obesity.”

Another cloud hanging over the Prime Minister and his government, since 2011, also appears to have lifted.  This one concerned the robocall inquiry being conducted by Elections Commissioner Yves Côtés into voter suppression tactics seemingly linked to the Conservative Party of Canada’s famous CIMS database in the riding of Guelph and elsewhere.

While Côté did not rule out the possibility of a conspiracy he maintained that based on the evidence gathered in the course of the past three years, there was no pattern of behaviour or  sufficient evidence of a deliberate strategy on the part of the Conservative party to mislead members of the voting public in 2011.

I think it is really significant that both Côté and NDP ethical watchdog Charlie Angus  have complained that the Elections Commissioner should have subpoena powers to force a party under suspicion to hand over their phone or telemarketing records to Elections Canada.  A tool that arguably should have been included in the Conservatives recently passed Fair Elections Act, but was rejected by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Polièvre, as going too far.  Instead, Harper’s protégé continues to say that only courts and Parliament should be able to exercise these powers and that the Elections Commissioner must go through the courts if they want to do this.  You can’t help but wonder why the government writing the law was so opposed to giving Election’s Canada all of the tools it needs to fulfill its most important function of fighting electoral fraud, and whether it had anything to do with their own often very tense relationship with this vital democratic body.

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Other articles by David DesBaillets

Supreme Court Chief latest victim of the Harper shoot-the-messenger policy
Chickens coming home to roost on “open nominations” promise
What’s really behind the silence of Harper on the trial of Fahmy in Egypt
Harper has a bad day in court

Follow David DesBaillets on twitter @DDesBaillets

 

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