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The Scandal that Isn't

April 28, 2014
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Writing in Postmedia newspapers a few weeks ago Stephen Maher allowed that he felt happy for Nigel Wright; happy that the RCMP didn’t charge him for giving $90,000 of his personal funds to Mike Duffy.  But after reading his entire article I got the feeling that even if the Supreme Court declared everyone in this affair innocent Maher still wouldn’t let it go

His article reads like the fevered imaginings of a conspiracy theorist. Maher senses this when he writes: “You don’t have to sport tinfoil headgear to note how convenient this is for the government.” Then he promptly dons the tinfoil and continues, “The Tories have exerted their control over the RCMP in alarming ways, and Harper has repeatedly shown that it is better to be his friend than his enemy.” 

Then there is this from him:  “Thanks to the RCMP, we know that senior officials in our government were conspiring to cover up tens of thousands of dollars in (seemingly) improper payments to senators.”   I guess the RCMP is only independent when it does something Maher likes.

 In his defence Maher could point out that he also argued senior cops like to investigate politicians, but not charge them. Forget for a minute that Maher is accusing the nation’s police force of closing its eyes to criminal wrongdoing at the behest of the PM;   and forget for a minute that it is not the RCMP who decides if charges should be laid, but the Crown Prosecutor, based on a review of the evidence. What about the fact that politicians Mac Harb, Patrick Brazeau and Raymond Lavigne have now and in the past been charged with crimes!

Specifically, Maher’s finds it suspicious that former commissioner of the RCMP, William Elliot is working in New York for Interpol. Never mind that Elliot’s qualifications for the job in New York are impeccable. In his long career as a civil servant he served under both Liberal and Conservative masters at Deputy Minister levels and higher; much of the time dealing with security matters.

And what about Maher’s implication that under the guidance of the supposed “hidden hand” of the Tories Giuliano Zaccardelli interfered in the 2006 election by investigating Ralph Goodale. Stephen Harper wasn’t even Prime Minister at the time and had no influence over a dog catcher in Calgary much less the Commissioner of the RCMP.

 Maher claims that “Politics is by its nature secretive, but Harper has taken this secrecy further than his predecessors.” How would he know? Perhaps Prime Minister Harper’s predecessors were simply better at keeping secrets. Given that Mr. Maher seems to know all of Mr. Harper’s that seems to be a pretty safe bet.

 And what about the media’s reliance on secrecy?  People like Maher and Robert Fife not only rely on, but crow about their use of anonymous sources for information. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that as often as the use of anonymous sources, and leaked information from them, uncovers malfeasance by the guilty, it also heaps an undeserved helping of collateral damage on the innocent.   The more the merrier seems to be the press’s mantra in this case.

Let’s take the sentence quoted above, “…that senior officials in our government were conspiring to cover up tens of thousands of dollars in (seemingly) improper payments to senators.”  What is he referring to here?  At first one might think he means the $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy, but he says “senators” (plural). Is he referring, then, to the improperly claimed living expenses of Harb, Brazeau and Duffy? But government officials could not have been conspiring to cover that up since it was already very publicly in the hands of the independent auditors’, having been referred there by the committee of which I was chair. No, Maher takes two half-truths and conflates them to create a whole that sounds far worse than it would otherwise. It isn’t the truth but so what? He doesn’t have to answer for it in question period every day.

If there is a “miasma of sleaze” around the PMO, as the subheading of Maher’s article suggests, it is because he wants there to be. I’ll  go out on a limb and say  there is no major scandal here, and never has been – either in the PMO or the Senate -- except the one ginned up by the media and the other political parties. The decision not to press charges against Nigel Wright is the first objective indication of that.  I can understand the other political parties interest in seeing a big scandal, but the media, in its eagerness to sell copy and garner more investigative reporting awards, when this is all said and done, is going to have to account for its willingness to go along with those parties, with little questioning  of their motives.  Or maybe they won’t.

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