Friday, October 25, 2013

Stephen's Chosen

Some may recall a blogpost entitled "Stephen's Choice." It was written very shortly after Brent Rathgeber left the Conservative Party caucus over the unacceptable gutting of his public service transparency bill.

In case you don't want to read the entire post again to get the gist of it, the message was fairly simple: that the Conservative Party of Canada, as Harper has built it, would either live or die based on the direction Harper took it in a party leader. If the party returned to its principles of open government by elected officials, the party, as Harper has built it, would live. If he allowed the trend of important decisions being made in back rooms by non-elected officials the party, as Harper has built it, would die.

Harper has made his choice. The party, as Harper has built it, has died.

A motion to suspend three former Conservative Senators without pay is an odd funeral. And yet here we are. And the same nonsense that has been going on ever since the allegations of impropriety against Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau arose seems to have flowed right out of the nonsense that surrounded Rathgeber's departure from caucus.

Today, Senator Patrick Brazeau reported that the government leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan, offered him what amounted to a backroom deal: if Brazeau agreed to apologize to Canadians for allegedly filing fraudulent expense claims, the punishment would be less severe.

"At approximately 10:20 am this morning, I was outside this chamber in the back and the leader of the Senate, the leader of the government in the Senate, took me aside. And I'll be very careful about my words here, but I was essentially offered a backroom deal," Brazeau explained. "And the backroom deal was that if I stood in this chamber, apologized to Canadians and took responsibility for my actions, that my punishment would be lesser than what is being proposed."

For his own part, Senator Carignan insists that he didn't intend to unduly threaten Brazeau, and that his words to Breazeau were meant as advice to a friend. Carignan insists Brazeau misinterpreted him. But given some of the interactions between Senator Duffy and the PMO, as well as some of his fellow Senators, I personally find that difficult to believe.

Whether phrased to Brazeau as an explicit offer/threat or not, Carignan was continuing a trend that allowed this affair to blow up as it has in the first place. Keep in mind that none of the allegations against Duffy, Wallun or Brazeau have ever been proven using anything even resembling due process -- something that Wallin noted when speaking in the Senate. There have been numerous audits that have supported, in turn, both the claims of impropriety and the defenses offered against them. This matter is far from settled in the mind of any fair-minded Canadian, one way or the other.

In the end, this is what the motion to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau is: an end-run around that due process; a desperate attempt to try to make this entire affair go away without the allegations ever being raised and sorted in a public forum of any sort. As Peter Goldring pointed out today, this is wrong and arguably a violation of the accused Senators' Charter Rights.

All of this when the best way to deal with all of this was, for better or worse, to deal with the entire mess out in the open, and to be seen dealing with the whole mess right out in the open. Where everyone can see what is happening, judge the evidence against Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau for themselves, and judge the government for its response to it.

Now the third of these three things is taking place, and because of the government's refusal to deal with it out in the open, that judgement has been overwhelmingly negative.

Inexplicably, Harper doubled down on this today. In an interview with John Tory, Harper insisted that the facts against the Senators were crystal clear. Given that some of the audits -- particularly those regarding Duffy's expenses -- actually support Duffy's claims, that Wallin and Brazeau each claim to have received approval from the Senate for the expenses they claimed, the only thing that is crystal clear is that nothing about this is crystal clear. At least not for those who haven't pre-judged the entire affair.

So in Harper's hands, the Conservative Party, as he promised all Canadians it would conduct itself in government, has died. There may now be no resuscitating it.

The form of this death should not be mistaken for the death that opponents of the party crave. The party exists, will continue to exist, and even though Harper's stubbornness and carelessness is currently dividing this party, there are still those within the party who can unite it again.

I'm by no means withdrawing my support for the Conservative Party. But I have withdrawn my confidence in the leadership of Stephen Harper. There's still time for the party to be revitalized and reunited under new leadership, provided that Harper can find it in himself to offer his resignation.

Keep in mind that the only viable alternatives to Stephen Harper as Prime Minister are within the Conservative Party. His principal opponents, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, are fools who have no business even imagining governing this country, let alone ever actually doing it.

Stephen Harper has made his choice. Now he has to live with it. But the very least he can do is allow the party to find new life with new leadership.