Tag Archives: Nigel Wright

Our dwindling democracy


Some who reside in the Greater Moncton area don’t give a chocolate-coated fiddlehead about the Mike Duffy affair.

According to one straw poll I conducted by cell phone between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon, as I careened out of town for a weekend of fun in the sun at an undisclosed Maritime location, which is, I hasten to add, not my primary residence.

I should also say that the five people I interviewed comprise a statistically meaningful sample of Canada’s voting public exactly zero times out of 20, with a plus-or-minus margin of error of precisely 100 per cent (in other words, about average for national pollsters in recent elections).

I posed only one question, providing survey respondents with the opportunity to rank their five main issues from one to five, in descending order:

“What would you say is your most pressing concern in this absurdly long, already tedious, election cycle? Is it (a) Duffygate; (b) unemployment; (c) the economy; (d) global warming and Canada’s reaction to it; and (e) the weapons-grade stupidity evinced by all but the tiniest fraction of politicians of every stripe in the soon-to-be-again Great White North?”

The results were compelling, if not especially unexpected.

All five respondents declared unequivocally that political stupidity was their most urgent worry. Comments ranged in tone and perspicuity from, “I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. . .did I mention that I hate them?” to, “you know, it’s probably not their (politicians’) fault; inbreeding causes a lot of problems elsewhere in society too.”

Coming in a close second was the economy. One respondent observed: “So, here we have in the Harper government a regime that once insisted the best thing it could do was to stay out of the private sector’s way, and yet it now runs on a platform extolling the virtues of its economic hegemony.”

Third on the hit parade of grievances was unemployment – or rather, underemployment. “I came to this province on the promise of green fields of opportunity,” said one interviewee. “I figured my advanced degree would make me a fine candidate for good-paid work in New Brunswick. Now, I drive a cab in Moncton.”

Fourth was global warming.

Assorted remarks included: “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost froze my feet off”, “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost had heat stroke”, “Oh. . .wait, I think I see an asteroid about to destroy all of us. . .Funny how it looks just like Mike Duffy.”

In Ottawa, far away from what matters to most people down here, the Senate moils and roils to reclaim its significance, the trials of important others proceed apace.

The world here now begins with irrelevance, marches towards false gravitas and ends in self-importance. The regions of this country do not matter; neither do the cities or towns we call home. And the Mike Duffy affair, which should concern us, simply doesn’t rise to the occasion.

We are, all of us, victims of our own distractions, our own obsessions, our own grievances. There is almost nothing left in the collective piggy bank of charity, forgiveness and grace; nothing with which to rebuild the world we so recently broke.

But should we, in our minds, with our hands and hearts so easily abandon the struggle to understand what goes horribly wrong in the National Capital Region?

To our abiding shame, we have begun to care nothing about the condition of our own democracy, with a margin of error of exactly zero.

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The curious case of Mike Duffy and the 31 counts


The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

The gorilla in the Senate is biding his time

And then there was one.

Like pins on a bowling alley, they’re toppling: Retired Liberal Senator Mac Harb, Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, and now that most tele-charismatic of them all, Tory Senator Mike Duffy who, last week, learned that the RCMP had charged him with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Only Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin (suspended like her colleagues, Messrs. Brazeau and Duffy) remains under police investigation for alleged fiduciary misdeeds.

But it is on Mr. Duffy that all eyes are focussed. That’s because it is thanks to Mr. Duffy that a government could fall and the edifice of the Conservative Party of Canada could crumble. 

If either of those scenarios play out over the next several months, it would make history; marking the first time a journalist (former or active) in this country played a role anything more substantial than gadfly to established power. And you can just bet he’s itching to scratch that substantial epidermis.

“The court process will allow Canadians to hear all of the facts,” he told reporters outside his home in Kensington, P.E.I., on the weekend. “They will then understand that I have not violated the Criminal Code.”

Looking almost relaxed for a man who has had two heart surgeries since his fat hit the flames several moons ago – when news erupted that he may have run afoul of Senate residency rules, expense protocols and the acceptable limit and circumstances for receiving. . .um. . .“donations” from “friends” to settle his debts to the Upper Chamber – Mr. Duffy promised to say nothing more to the media whilst his case is before the judicial system. 

Still, he intimated, his day in court promises to be a day of reckoning for everyone who ever thought of crossing him. His message to The Centre: “I’m coming for you.”

It’s not an idle threat. 

Legal experts wonder whether federal prosecutors can prove that the $90,000 “gift” to Mr. Duffy, from former Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to settle his account for improper senatorial spending, does, in fact, amount to receiving a bribe. After all, how can the recipient be charged if the ‘gifter’ gets off Scot free? To date, the RCMP has refused to charge Mr. Wright with any wrongdoing.

In a Canadian Press story, Queen’s University law professor Don Stuart put it this way:

“It seems unclear what the courts have made of the word corruption (in the relevant statute). Normally speaking you don’t have to prove a motive, but in (the Duffy) case you might have to, because of the use of the word corruption. . .They (the prosecution) will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his (Mr. Duffy’s) intention was a corrupt intention.”

But, then, that would amount to blackmail. And, by all accounts so far, that word does not appear in any of the indictments against the suspended senator. 

At this point, a multitude of questions become salient. 

If Mr. Wright, with all the best intentions (though possibly career-ending poor judgement), merely wanted to settle the matter of Mr. Duffy’s expenses privately without further burdening taxpayers, is it possible that certain government operatives, unbeknownst to Mr. Wright, appended a coercive codicil to the deal that required Mr. Duffy to extend, in return for the booty, certain favours to his political masters or, alternatively, instruct him to keep his mouth shut about certain, past wrongdoings of which all were intimately familiar?

Again, would that amount to bribery or blackmail?

Naturally, it’s all speculation. Still. . .

“If the matter goes to full trial and potentially involves the sitting prime minister of the country in connection with matters of the Senate, we will see a mix of politics and law that will be one of the outstanding trials in our history,” Rob Walsh, former law clerk to Parliament, told the Toronto Star’s Tim Harper. “If it comes to that.” 

Anyway you cut it, that’s bad news for the current government. It hardly matters when Mr. Duffy’s trial embarks. The scandal has already tainted the Tory regime and the Senate, where further investigations of other standing members are, we are told, underway.

And then there were none.


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Senate shenanigans mask a bigger scandal


A foreign observer might be forgiven for thinking that Canadian politics, these days, begins and ends with a rotund, cherry-faced man with a bum ticker. Not a morning passes when Senator Mike Duffy’s mug doesn’t grace the news sections of major and minor media from Bay Bulls, Newfoundland to Port Hardy, British Columbia.

As for this, a foreign observer might also be mystified. What, pray tell, is all the fuss? Is it the fact that Mr. Duffy, a former broadcast journalist and legendary raconteur, is simply too quotable to ignore, as, apparently, he was on last Monday when he addressed his upper chamber colleagues on the now grindingly familiar matter of his expenses?

“I come here today, against my doctor’s orders, directly from the Heart Institute,” he complained, though clearly relishing the opportunity to hear, once more, the sound of his own voice.

“I have to give them a plug. If you have any spare cash, they’re always happy to take donations. Maybe that’s out of order. Anyway, they are wonderful, caring people over there who advised me, if possible, to stay away from these proceedings because the stress from the proceedings is toxic to my heart.

“But despite their warnings, I have no choice but to appear considering the avalanche of untruths and character assassination with which I’ve been unfairly and viciously attacked by colleagues who should know better. . . When I insisted on written guarantees that repaying money I didn’t owe would not be seen by the Senate as a guilty plea, Nigel Wright arranged to have my legal fees paid. That is right.”

As for the big reveal, it was interesting. But only vaguely.

“One cheque from Nigel Wright? No, ladies and gentlemen: there were two cheques, at least two cheques. The PMO, listen to this, had the Conservative Party’s lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, pay my legal fees. He paid for my lawyer – Arthur Hamilton – a cheque, $13,560. That is right, senators: not one payment, not one payment but two.”

In its lead editorial on Monday, The Globe and Mail observed, “Mr. Duffy’s main line of defence has now come down to this: I was only following orders. . .His asserted conversion from marionette to whistleblower is self-serving and obnoxious. But is there any truth to it?”

A better question, at this point, might be: Who cares?

As scandals go, this one is more sizzle than steak. Its deeply compromised significance may make Canadians momentarily angry, but only about appearances. The appearance of impropriety. The appearance of high-handedness. The appearance of cover-ups. Nothing so grand as the future of democracy, or even the integrity of our public institutions, is actually on the line.

In this respect, former newspaper owner Conrad Black has it exactly right: If we want a better Senate, appoint better senators. (While we’re at it, we might check the rules and regulations governing members’ entitlements and comportment for cobwebs and dust bunnies).

In the broad context of the nation’s truly important business, we should count the one indisputable blessing we know about our political system: It’s not American. The U.S. now faces  almost structural dysfunction, as one crazy congressional faction uses the public purse to hold both the legislative and executive branches of government hostage to the imperious notion that election outcomes don’t really matter, after all.

At least, that’s what an informed foreigner might conclude about us. He might also ponder the relative absence of news on issues about which Canadians once said they cared deeply: job insecurity, income disparity, crumbling infrastructure, unravelling health care, environmental degradation, climate change, and military spending.

In fact, according to a CTV report last year, “A new survey says keeping Canada’s health care system strong, creating jobs and keeping communities safe are issues of top importance  to Canadians. However, that same poll suggests Canadians have little confidence in elected officials’ ability to address these issues of concern.”

That, of course, is the real scandal in our national politics.

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Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?


Dear Nigel:

It’s been some time since last we chatted, and it occurs to me that I never did thank you for your gift of last Christmas, which was both timely and deeply appreciated. As we are both men of a certain social standing and responsibility, we understand how the pressures of high office can occasionally undermine our material means. It is grand to know that one can count on one’s friends when circumstances prevail overly on one’s pocket book. Great Aunt Mabel’s sudden demise (the unfortunate result of one too many rum toddies during Hogmanay) was a devastating blow to all of us. Your generous offer to cover the costs of her interment was a great relief. Again, we thank you!

On another matter entirely, you’ll be pleased to know that the renovations to our summer residence in Castle, New Brunswick, are proceeding nicely. The wife, Minnie, and I are enormously proud of the 1,500 square feet of new, outdoor living space, which replaces the old baby barn and outhouse. We can’t decide what we like most about it: the uniflame, gas firebowl with teak surrounds or the Buddha-themed, granite water feature. Minnie simply can’t tear herself away from the Rattan sofa chair.(It’s mildew-resistant, don’t you know). In any case, thanks to your thoughtful munificence, we’ve managed to steer clear of the bank. What a relief! Arguing loan terms can be such a bore.

Oh, before I forget, I should mention that our girl Tabitha is having a marvelous time on her European grand tour, visiting all of the Old World capitals. Meanwhile, young Chad is learning how to parasail (his fondest dream) during his sojourn at the reef islands of Vanuatu. Needless to say, they are most grateful for their “Uncle” Nigel’s support and they send their love.

Now, down to business. . .I may have mentioned to you my desire to write a book. For years, I have been deeply concerned about the state of the Maritime economy and the increasing gulf between the haves and the have-nots. When I travel around this region – the times I manage to extricate myself from my heavy workload in Ottawa – I am shocked by the lack of opportunity here. Recently, somebody (I can’t remember who) told me that the population is aging and that more and more people are actually leaving to get work elsewhere. Did you know that?

Well, that’s certainly a wake-up call and I think something should be done about it. Specifically, I think I should do something about it. After all, I am a member of this great country’s upper chamber. What’s more, I am a journalist by training and a story teller by temperament. (I once gave a speech, scheduled for half-an-hour, that ran on for 75 minutes; by the end, the audience could not recommend me too highly).

Nigel, here’s what I’m proposing. . .I will roll up my sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty of what makes this region tick. Why do some people seem to have it all and why do some. . .well, don’t? Why is there so much unfairness out there? Who’s to blame? What’s the solution?

I’ve considered throwing my support behind Maritime Union, but for the life of me I can’t figure out where the capital city should go. So, maybe that’s a non-starter. At the very least, however, I can leverage the not unappreciable respect my station in life affords me to get the urgent conversation going. I even have a working title: “A Tough Love Letter from Fat City.” Catchy – don’t you think?

At any rate, such a project will take time and, of course, money – about $90,000, in fact. And that, dear friend, brings me to you. I know you won’t let me down. After all, men like us. . .well, we’ve got to stick together.

Your enduring chum,

Senator Alejandro Brucellosis, Esq.

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