Tuesdays revelations – or allegations, anyway – from Senator Mike Duffy were quite something. If his comments are to be proven, the consequences for the prime minister and, by extension, the Conservative Party might be dire. Probably you know what those allegations are already, but by way of a quick recap, I’ll simply quote Duffy himself, as he described what happened following a caucus meeting, after a story in the Ottawa Citizen raised the question about whether his residence was in Prince Edward Island or Ontario.
“I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules. But the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base,” Duffy said Harper told him. “I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the prime minister – to ‘pay the money back!’ End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the three of us.”
That was the Holy Moly moment, delivered by a man who once told stories for a living, with the all the pauses and pronunciations in the right spots and the inflections placed more or less exactly on target. Duffy, accustomed for so long to TV, proved in the television-less Senate Tuesday he probably could have been just as successful a journalist had he stuck with radio.
It struck that perhaps, should this retelling of events be accurate, it’s no wonder Duffy didn’t show up to the Senate’s board of internal economy meeting back in May – the one designed to effectively correct the record and change the language in its report on Duffy. That first report, referred to widely as a “whitewash” at the time, had come close to exonerating Duffy, somehow losing all the bits that originally said he had been unwilling to cooperate with auditors and that the language about primary residency was “unambiguous”.
If Duffy suspected, as he vocalized during a speech his fellow embattled senator Patrick Brazeau gave a few minutes after him Tuesday, that “the fix was in,” it stands to reason he might not show up to watch that fix being fairly literally inserted. But now the tables have turned, haven’t they?
Should Tuesday’s accounting prove to be an accurate portrayal of what the prime minister said to Duffy in this alleged meeting, it may soon seem uncomfortably prophetic. We still don’t know whether the prime minister had complete and direct knowledge of just how that money would be paid back once he’d ordered it to be done – there remains the possibility that Duffy’s further allegation that Wright phoned and said he’d cover the cheque was unknown to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But it hardly matters.
That’s because, as Harper is alleged to have said, it’s about the perception of what you did. The rules, or – more to the point – the nuances, may prove to be imperceptible to the general public. Did the prime minister know exactly how the money was repaid? Perhaps not. But so what?
To add some insult to injury, it might occur to the prime minister – should he now have to count on Canadians understanding the finer details – that he’s in no position to ask for such focus. His is hardly a party that has primed the electorate for paying attention to the smaller things in life or government – not when there are more grandiose ideas to promote.
“The member acknowledges the fact that we are working with the RCMP and authorities to get to the bottom of this,” the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra told the House of Commons paternalistically Tuesday afternoon, about the Duffy-Wright saga. “In the meantime," he said, "we are going to continue focusing on jobs, hope and economic prosperity for all Canadians.” It was a familiar approach. A day earlier, Calandra lamented that the opposition wasn't concentrating enough on the lofty concept of how great the new free trade deal with the European Union is.
Too often, it seems, for a governing party, the details don't apply for the Conservatives. What are the details about how jobs are going to be created? What are the details about carbon pricing? What are the details about those robocalls? What are the details about new fighter jets or naval vessels? What are the details concerning mandatory minimum sentencing? What are the details about the effectiveness of supervised drug injection sites? What are the details about how Canada will achieve economic prosperity? What are the details of the E.U. free trade agreement? What are the details regarding hope? They've never mattered.
But now they do. Especially for the prime minister. They will make the difference between him being painted as a crucial cog in a large conspiracy, or as a passive and largely ignorant presence in an unrelated saga that unfolded without his knowledge. Good luck with all that.
This applies most when considering that base the prime minister allegedly mentioned to Duffy. How will it interpret things? Will the details matter? We might get some idea of that from recently-departed, former Reformer and Conservative backbencher Brent Rathgeber, who was reportedly present in the Senate’s public gallery Tuesday afternoon.
“I left my caucus, my former caucus for many, many reasons and one of them was a lack of accountability and lack of transparency but what you see here in my view is not an attempt by the government, and by the government leader in the Senate, to provide for accountability and transparency,” Rathgeber told reporters. “It’s an attempt in my view to make three political problems go away. It appears to me that many other principles including fair play, procedure, rule of law are being sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.”
Will those traveling to Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre next week for the Conservative party gathering feel the same way? That theirs is a party lacking not only accountability and transparency, but now has a number of very uncomfortable – and now angry – political problems, too? One might suspect that even if the base somehow manages to put on a brave face for the media next week, there might be some grumblings, either about party power or direction, brewing. Or perhaps there will be some loose lips and, again, the smaller details will tell the real story.