Editorial: The buck stops at the prime minister’s door

The problem is Prime Minister Stephen Harper: his vision, his control, his actions.

As the drama of how to punish three avaricious senators is being finalized, it is increasingly obvious that the issue of what to do with the Senate and its rules, or lack thereof, is secondary. Since it is all but impossible to amend the constitution to get rid of it, we do have to live with the Upper Chamber for so-called sober second thought.

The problem is the people Harper chose, how he has used them to shill for his party at public expense, and how he changed his story in mendacious ways. Harper continues to claim he knew nothing of the $90,000 cheque cut by chief of staff Nigel Wright for Senator Mike Duffy. The money was to repay unwarranted housing expenses. Given the control Harper exercises on all major decisions, his claim of ignorance is dubious. Duffy’s claims were being examined by an external auditor, so the cash payment has every appearance of a coverup.

On June 5, Harper told the House of Commons, “Those were (Wright’s) decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office.” In late October, he said Wright had informed “very few people.” Harper went on in October: “As soon as I knew … I made this information available to the public and took the appropriate action.” Not quite.

CTV’s Robert Fife broke the story on May 15, and at first Tory MP Pierre Polievre, acting as Harper’s spokesman, claimed Wright had done “an exceptionally honourable thing,” saving taxpayers’ money. Harper waited until May 19 to say he regretted Wright’s “decision” to resign. Last month, Harper said Wright “was dismissed.”

Why would Wright help Duffy, not a personal friend, and then be fired for it? Was he a scapegoat?

Duffy’s revelation that the Conservative Party paid his $13,560 in legal fees in arranging the $90,000 deal and cover story adds fuel to the fire. The RCMP alleges that Senator Pamela Wallin committed “fraud and breach of trust” by making inappropriate expense claims from Jan. 2, 2009, when she became a senator, to Sept. 20, 2012. Wallin and Duffy were high-profile media personalities who were used by Harper to drum up money and votes.

Canadians can be forgiven for wondering what other shady activities are being covered up. These are some other Harper government issues we question:

  • The chief enforcer of Canada’s election laws plans to conclude by the spring an investigation into robocalls during the 2011 election. They are probing thousands of complaints in more than 200 ridings of similar automated or live calls that misdirected voters or appeared designed to annoy them into not voting.
  • The Conservatives in March accepted a plea bargain and agreed to repay $230,000 to Elections Canada for overspending in the 2006 election.
  • In shifting foreign policy from peacekeeper to warrior, the cost of a proposed fleet of 65 stealth jet fighters is estimated at $95 million each, or $1.2 billion more than projected.
  • For two years the government refused to provide records to the Military Police Complaints Commission, investigating whether Canada knowingly transferred prisoners to be tortured in Afghanistan.
  • Hundreds of federal scientists said in a survey that they had been asked to exclude or alter technical information in government documents for non-scientific reasons, and thousands said they had been prevented from responding to the media or public.
  • Major findings of Statistics Canada lost their scientific value when the Conservatives made the long form census voluntary in 2011. Agency head Munir Sheikh quit, saying no credible expert would agree the quality of a voluntary survey is as good.
  • The Conservative Party resolved last month to scrap the Rand Formula, which ensures union dues are automatically charged to members of a bargaining unit that profits from union resources.

As Duffy would say, there’s more. With Harper’s failure to provide leadership in health care, as outlined by Globe & Health public health specialist André Picard (see Page 3), it adds up to a disastrous regime that is destroying the Canada we love.

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