By Andrew Coyne, National Post, August 20 (abbreviated version)
In fact, I think we – and by we I mean the media, me included – have been grossly unfair to him, and never more so than in the matter of Mike Duffy’s expenses.
You will be familiar with the picture we have created of him: suspicious, paranoid, controlling, a leader who trusts no one, leaves nothing to others, insists on taking a hand in even the smallest matter. Well, you’d be suspicious, paranoid and controlling, too, if everyone around you was lying to you all the time.
Consider what we have learned about the Duffy affair. More to the point, consider what he has learned. Wholly without his knowledge, several of his closest advisers, including his chief of staff, his principal secretary, and his legal counsel, together with his Senate house leader, the chairman of the Conservative party fundraising arm and the party lawyer, conspired over a period of several months to pay Duffy for his improperly claimed living expenses, then to pretend to the public that he had repaid them out of his own pocket, then to attempt to block, shut down, or rewrite a confidential audit, then finally to rewrite a Senate committee report so as to absolve Duffy of any fault.
But it did not end there. Not content with deceiving the prime minister about this complex plan, with the enormous risks – legal, political, personal – it entailed, they stood by and let him make a series of (unwittingly!) false statements to Parliament and the public about it: not only that Duffy had paid his own expenses, but when it emerged that he had not, that the whole scheme had been the work of one man, Nigel Wright. Not only did he know nothing of it, the prime minister was allowed to say on multiple occasions – indeed, he would have put a stop to it had he known – but neither did anyone else.
Imagine the sense of betrayal he must have felt – the vertigo, the nausea – as it slowly dawned on him that everything he had been led to believe about the whole affair was a lie: that in fact, everyone knew. Everyone, that is, but him. Imagine the humiliation, to have been played for a patsy in this way – him, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada – and what is more, for the whole world to know it. He is a proud man, but not immune to feelings of self-doubt. Would anyone respect him now? Could he carry on as leader, if he were not master even of his own office?…