OTTAWA – Federal Politics – Since this is one of my two final columns for 2013 I would like offer a bit of a recap of the last year. I say this despite the fact that there are several important issues that have developed this week. So before getting into the year in review I want you to know that I will be commenting on these other important issues, most notably the end of mail service in Canada as we know it, in future columns over the winter parliamentary recess.
2013 was a busy year and one which will not be forgotten anytime soon by this Member of Parliament. The Senate Scandal, another monster omnibus budget bill, the Senate Scandal, prorogation, the Senate Scandal, and the announcement of the new energy policy of Canada’s NDP were highlights for me.
Way back in the spring, February to be exact, the scope and severity of the Senate Scandal was not yet clear to Canadians. We knew that some Senators had wrongfully claimed for housing, travel, and other expenses and that there were likely to be others. Conservative Senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau as well as Liberal Mac Harb were found filing expense claims that were clearly not entitled to. At the time, this was the scandal, but then something remarkable happened.
February 2013 may be known forever as the tipping point for the Harper Government. At that time, Stephen Harper and his staff faced a very clear choice – tell the truth, expose the problem, and offer a solution or deny the facts, malign your opponents, and cover things up. In other words they could have acted ethically and done the right thing, or they could choose the low road. We now know, thanks to an active RCMP investigation, that Mr. Harper’s staff and Senators took the lowest road available to them at that time.
The Senate Scandal cover-up in February involved at least 13 Conservatives – ranging from junior staff to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and sitting Senators – and consumed much time, energy, and resources. It was well orchestrated, involved a binding legal agreement between Senator Duffy and the Prime Minister’s Office and Conservative Party, and will likely to lead to criminal charges for some – if not all – of those involved. Whatever happens at the end of the day we will remember that all of this goes back to decisions made in the Prime Minister’s Office in February 2013.
The 2013-14 federal budget was tabled in parliament in March. The lowlights of the latest 400-plus page smoke-and-mirrors budget plan included a cut of $4.7 billion over four years from the federal infrastructure budget; it raised the retirement from 65 years of age to 67 for all Canadians, and disclosed that the budget deficit and economic growth predictions of the Finance Minister were actually worse than the year before. Of extra importance for Northern Ontario was the fact that the Federal Economic Development Agency for Northern Ontario (FedNor) was not even mentioned in the document, while the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev) received an extra $920 million over 5 years starting April 2014.
If February was the month that the Harper Government decided to take the low road on the Senate Scandal, then May was the month that they were caught doing so. On May 14, CTV news reported broadly on the cover-up scheme and disclosed that Mike Duffy, who was still a sitting Senator, was paid more than $90,000 to stay silent on the whole scandal by a third party. On May 15 Andrew MacDougall, the personal spokesman for the Prime Minister confirmed that Harper’s Chief of Staff Nigel Wright wrote a personal cheque to Duffy, which was very different than what Mike Duffy and the Prime Minister had stated publicly.
June was another tough month for Mr. Harper but a very good month for New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair. Seizing on this new admission and evidence that was trickling out from various quarters bit by bit, Tom stood in the House to question the Prime Minister, and he did a terrific job. As a lawyer Tom knows a lot of great interview techniques and has helped Canadians get to the bottom of this sad affair. Tom’s rapid-fire questions in Question Period seemed innocuous at the time, but they forced the Prime Minister to state on the public record what he knew and when he knew about the whole scandal. The Prime Minister’s answers, coming under withering questioning by Tom over several days, would prove in the fall to be, shall we say, at odds with the truth.
More on the Senate Scandal and the year that was 2013 next week, but until then stay warm and enjoy the week ahead.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River