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article imageOp-Ed: Andrew Coyne on Stephen Harper

By Ken Hanly     Nov 3, 2013 in Politics
Ottawa - Andrew Coyne is a well known Canadian columnist and TV commentator. He has two recent very critical articles on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's response to a scandal involving several Conservative appointed senators.
For those not familiar with the Canadian Senate expenses scandal there is a helpful summary
in Wikipedia: The Canadian Senate expenses scandal is an ongoing political scandal concerning the expense claims of certain Canadian senators which began in late 2012. Senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau claimed travel and housing expenses from the Senate for which they were not eligible. As a result, the Auditor General of Canada began investigating the expense claims of the entire Senate. Duffy, Wallin, and Harb eventually repaid the ineligible amount, and Harb has since retired. The Canadian Senate is not an elected body, as in the US and some other countries, but the members are in effect appointed by the government in power at the time seats become vacant. As a result, many of the appointments are made as rewards to those who have served the party in power. Some of the ineligible expenses revealed in the audit had to do with reimbursement for work that was campaigning for a party, not related to Senate business. The three remaining senators who may be suspended from Senate are all Conservatives as Harb, a Liberal, retired.
There have been many proposals to reform the Senate including the Triple E Senate, Equal, Effective, Elected. Alberta has elections to submit the names of their Senators to the government. Harper campaigned on a reform platform but in power he has followed the traditional pattern of promoting those who have served the governing party well.
My own synopsis of the scandal is that the government had been very generous in interpretation of the rules in allowing expenses for senators, especially with those such as Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin who as Senators did a lot of campaigning and fund raising to help the party cause and coffers. However, as questions arose about expenditures, housing expenses, and residence requirements, an audit was ordered. The government decided that it had to reign in those who would turn out to be feeding excessively at the pork barrel, hold them responsible, and even send them to the slaughterhouse. Eventually this would lead to a motion that Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau be suspended from the Senate. A motion to this effect will be voted on next week in Senate. However, the three little pigs, some of whom had made deals with the government to accept responsibility for their wrongdoing, have not cooperated with government plans, and have come out squealing to reveal the sordid behind the scenes deals involved. The government has tried to throw the three senators under the bus but the three instead have attempted to set the bus on fire.
In all of this, Harper has not accepted responsibility for any of the wrong doing but presents his appointed Senators and his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, as being solely responsible for everything. He himself is simply forcing them to be accountable. Coyne's articles in the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post expose Harper's bold and shameless tactic of accepting absolutely no responsibility for what happened even though the facts show clearly that he was. His former chief of staff Nigel Wright was forced to resign after he wrote a check for $90,000 to repay Duffy's expenses. Later, Harper changed his story, as Coyne points out, saying that he fired Wright that he did not resign. The Conservative Party paid over ten thousand for Duffy's legal expenses. As Coyne says of Harper. And he is most certainly not responsible for the clandestine campaign, involving officials in his office, the chairman of the Conservative Fund Canada and several leading Conservative senators, to repay Sen. Duffy’s falsely claimed expenses on his behalf and conceal his misdeeds from the public. He is not responsible for his spokesman’s statements, even after the plot had been exposed, praising Duffy for “doing the right thing” and vouching confidence in his chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
All that Harper is responsible is for those good things such as forcing his senators to pay back their illegitimate expenses. Of course in Duffy's case his own chief of staff, issued the check for the repayment. Coyne continues about Harper: He is not even responsible for answering questions about his responsibility in this affair. He does not answer questions from the media, and when called upon to answer questions in Parliament as often as not passes them off to his parliamentary secretary. Even when he does answer questions, he doesn’t answer them.
Coyne sees Harper as completely ignoring the tradition that the prime minister must accept responsibility for the actions of his staff, that this is a matter of personal honor. Harper blames everything on those around him even his chief of staff while he has no involvement in anything bad that went on. Coyne also thinks that the Harper government is willing to lie and cover up issues concerning Duffy's expenses but that these days Coyne says that lies are interpreted as spin even though they are plain old-fashioned lies : Even the liars can’t tell when they are lying any more. Should we be surprised that, in all this spinning about, they get a little giddy — that the closer they spin to the edges of legality, the greater the likelihood they will fall off?
But then, it is only a convention that we obey the law.
I understand that the usual reinterpretation of lies now is that they are inoperative statements. However, these days many lies remain operative no doubt following the view of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels that if you repeat statements often enough they will be believed. There is much more in Coyne's Ottawa Citizen article that is worth reading in its entirety.
Coyne's article in the National Post on Harper's recent speech at the Conservative convention is also corrosively critical of Harper. Coyne claims that Harper is not ever going to change. He is never going to admit error or show contrition. Coyne has often had praise for Harper and is very supportive of the recent free trade deal with Europe but he claims that even supporters of late see less admirable characteristics of Harper coming to the fore. Coyne says of Harper's speech:And so we get this damp recital of past slogans, this parody of a parody of an empty cliché of a speech, this 4,000 word migraine. A strong, stable national government! Protect our economy amid global uncertainty! For those who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules! For our children! And the generations to come!
Harper cannot say that he is sorry because that would be to concede that he had done something wrong. He would make himself subject to a standard not of his own choosing. He would need the approval of someone else than his carefully selected circle groomed to approve of his actions. Coyne concludes: If you never act as if you expect to be held to any standard, he calculates, you won’t be. If you never act as if you’re guilty, you aren’t.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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