Wright vs. Wrong

You may have heard the name “Nigel Wright” recently.

Mr. Wright is a Canadian businessman and lawyer, distinguished enough to have a middle initial (“S” for those wondering) on his Wikipedia page.

He was Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff for nearly three years, until he, quote, “… resigned from the Prime Minister’s Office after it was reported that he had given his own money to help Senator Mike Duffy repay the government for ineligible housing expenses.”

This is just one part of the ongoing Senate expenses scandal, in which Senators Brazeau and Harb were also criminally charged.

This is why Nigel S. Wright is currently in an Ottawa courthouse and all over the news, testifying in a trial where Mr. Duffy faces 31 charges, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Mr. Duffy, appointed by Harper to the Senate, has pleaded not guilty.

On August 12, Mr. Wright quoted the Bible to explain why he kept it a secret that he had given Mr. Duffy $90,000 so the senator could repay taxpayers for questionable expense claims.

“This is sort of Matthew 6: You should do those things quietly and not let your right hand know what your left is doing,” Mr. Wright said.

The verse in full reads, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” We leave it to F-oFF readers to decide whether or not Mr. Duffy qualified as “needy.”

What did Harper know?

This is the big question. Mr. Wright testified Harper did not know about the cheque to Mr. Duffy, raising a whole host of questions. Some of them defy logic.

Our prime minister is, by all accounts, a micromanager with tight reins on everything that goes on in the government. How could he not know what was going on between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy for months? We get plausible deniability for the first 24 hours — maybe even 48 hours — but months later? Really?

The media was having a feeding frenzy; it appears all key staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office were wholly embroiled in it; audits were being discussed and or underway. Either the truth was known, the truth was avoided, or there was nobody elected running the ship.

Was Wright fired or did he resign and why don’t we know?

However, say we believe the “I did not know. And as soon as I did I made it public, and fired Wright” scenario being sold to us at the moment.

Something is wrong here. The media broke the story, and the government made an official statement.

It is with great regret that I have accepted the resignation of Nigel Wright as my Chief of Staff. I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign. I want to thank Nigel for his tremendous contribution to our Government over the past two and a half years.
- Stephen Harper, May 19 2013.

So, as of May 19, Harper accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation and was grateful for Mr. Wright’s contribution to the government. Got it.

But wait. By October, the story had changed when Harper was speaking to a Halifax radio station.

“I think the responsibility whenever things go wrong is for us to take appropriate action. As you know I had a chief of staff who made an inappropriate payment to Mr. Duffy. He was dismissed.”
- Stephen Harper, October 28 2013.
But we want answers, Mr. Harper. Please?

This has now been the line Harper is using on the campaign trial: that he recognized what Mr. Wright had done was wrong, and dismissed him accordingly. It’s been difficult to get him to answer questions more specifically and more directly than that.

The inconsistencies in the story mean someone was or is lying. It’s a grim realization for a government whose very first prioritiy upon election was passing the Federal Accountability Act.

The Act passed on December 12, 2006, at which time Harper said, “From this day on, accountability in government is the law and we can all be proud of that fact.”

Lofty words, but upon reading them in 2015, they ring hollow. We need more answers from the prime minister to understand what happened and to be confident it won’t happen again.

It’s not impossible. If Harper were to admit to making mistakes — whether in his character assessment of Mr. Duffy, in not keeping a close enough eye on what was going on in his office, or in failing to live up to ethical standards — it would go a long way to rebuilding trust and restoring confidence that there won’t be a repeat of this same type of scandal.

But until then… it’s arrested development.

Read Karl Nerenburg’s take on the affair.
Watch CBC’s At Issue panel discuss
Nigel Wright’s testimony.

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