So Nigel Wright’s time of testimony is over, and he managed to get through it without saying much. In spite of the fact that it didn’t seem like Temporary Senator Duffy was on trial, but rather Stephen Harper, Wright managed to stick to the party line. He thought Duffy was probably innocent, he didn’t tell his boss what was going on, and he paid the fine himself.
Do we believe him? Of course we do; let’s look at reality. Who is the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, and what is he expected to do?
Well, put in simple terms he’s the fixer. When it all hits the fan, he’s the one charged with the task of cleaning it all up before anything sticks to the Prime Minister.
That’s his job. And the only way to lose the job is to fail. It’s the ultimate challenge for the up-and-coming politico or wannabe kingmaker. Produce or die. Succeed and you get power beyond your wildest dreams. Fail and you take the fall. And many do. Some examples:
Firings of Chief (or Asst. Chief) of Staff, by Whom and Why:
Don Reagan by President Ronald Reagan. Reason: Couldn’t fix the Iran-contra scandal.
Bridget Ann Kelly by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Reason: Failure to fix “Bridgegate,” retaliatory lane closures on the Washington Bridge.
Ron Berry by Missouri State Senator Paul leVota. Reason: Berry couldn’t make sexual abuse accusations from interns go away.
Ken Boessenkool, by BC Premier Christie Clark. Reason: misconduct in a bar with a government staff member. Boessenkool was a former senior adviser to guess who? Stephen Harper. Whoops! That one couldn’t even fix his own mistake.
I mean, these guys were bailing a leaky boat with a sieve, but that’s the job, take it or leave. So they did.
Business as Usual
But the point is, that’s the way it works in the halls of power, and it’s time average Joe and Jane voter realized it. If you’re the Chief of Staff, you lie, cheat, steal, or whatever the boss can’t be caught doing. The only reason the Prime Minister (or whoever is the top elected guy) remains squeaky clean is because he has a fixer ready and willing to get his hands into the muck instead, and pay the price if he gets caught.
Enter Nigel Wright.
This guy is not a young up-and-comer looking to make his mark. He’s a multi-millionaire businessman with a top job (and a corner office) waiting for him in a big corporation any time he chooses. So he is bound to approach the job with a different attitude.
And this is where we see once more that businessmen should stay out of politics. In order to be a top manipulator in international scene, a sense of morals or political correctness is far down the list of required skills.
So when Nigel Wright begins to realize that his assignment to make the Michael Duffy thing go away is a dead duck, he approaches the “succeed or pay” issue with a different slant. He’s got the money. He applies the usual business solution; throw money at the problem and it goes away.
Which it didn’t. So Nigel Wright went away, as the job description dictates. Only to be brought back to testify in a trial with possibly disastrous consequences to his former boss and maybe even still friend.
So nobody should be surprised that Wright used his considerable intelligence to continue his mandate: to limit damage to Harper. In this he was largely successful, because he did what he could to make Duffy look innocent, and persuaded everyone that he really didn’t tell Harper. Which, of course, he didn’t. Why would he? It would be completely out of character and contrary to the basic premise of the job, which he was almost good enough at. Isn’t it nice that he’s still trying?
But He Really Didn’t Succeed
Of course, he could not succeed, because the mere fact that he is testifying proves the existence of such an odious occupation in the office of someone who has always painted himself as a transparent, honest guy.
In the Media Today:
Did Ray Novak know? Of course he did. He didn’t read his emails? Give me a break. He wasn’t in the room? Harper’s personal lawyer (a former up-and-comer) says he was. And now Novak is Harper’s Chief of Staff. Harper’s response when asked if he trusted Wright is revealing. “He was working for me. Of course I trusted him.” He thus implies the other side of the coin, “If I can’t trust him, he’s history.” Guess who’s the next to go under the wheels of the bus? This is going to be rather easy, since both Novak and Harper are riding on the same campaign bus right now.
Hence Andrew Coyne’s marvelous tongue-in-cheek piece in today’s Vancouver Sun, wondering how awful it must be for poor Mr. Harper when he discovers that he has been surrounded by all these perfidious criminals, whom he trusted with all his heart. I imagine there are Conservatives who didn’t realize it was a joke. An example:
“Well, you’d be suspicious, paranoid and controlling, too, if everyone around you was lying to you all the time.”
Shame on you, Mr. Coyne. You’ll never get a seat in the Senate that way. Well, maybe from Prime Minister Trudeau.
What I’m Interested in Next Week: The Audit
All this about who paid back Duffy’s expenses and who knew is a complete red herring. It has nothing to do with Duffy’s guilt of defrauding the Canadian people, and nothing specifically, as I have posited above, to do with Stephen Harper. Meddling with a supposedly independent audit is a completely different kettle of fish, both morally and legally. As far as I can see, that’s the verdict that is going to make a difference to Harpers political chances and Duffy’s future as a Senator. And the reputation of both honest men.