Remember the Stephen Harper of yesteryear, a populist who believed in a triple-E Senate and an open, accountable government?
The events of the last week have likely destroyed that image once and for all. But the most troubling conclusion from the scandal has largely gone unrecognized.
It is no secret that prime ministers use patronage appointments, such as Senate seats, to reward party insiders. In spite of a lot of talk about Senate reform in his past, Harper has appointed more senators than any prime minister in Canadian history. In exchange for these plum positions, senators like Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin knew that their job was to use their public image and their oratory skills to raise money for the Conservative party.
Mike Duffy alleges that Harper, in a secret meeting, told him, “The rules are inexplicable to our base.” In other words, “You and I both know that senators are eligible for lavish entitlements but the optics are bad.” This would mean that Harper has known that senators can make lucrative expense claims and has done nothing in seven years to change the rules. Moreover, the implication is that the public, especially Conservative voters, are too stupid to understand the complex role of a senator.
Duffy and Wallin held up their end of the bargain. They raised a lot of money and they acted as Harper’s bulldogs in the Senate and media. But when the truth of their unspoken quid pro quo became an embarrassment, Harper has turned on them with characteristic viciousness. If once he had the appearance of a man of high principles, today he looks more like the poster boy for deceit, condescension and corruption in Canadian politics.