Harper, for­give us, we knew not what you didn’t know

What else did he know noth­ing about? What other lies had they told him?

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - AN­DREW COYNE

I am be­gin­ning to think we have done Stephen Harper a dis­ser­vice. No, I’m sure we have. 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 self­doubt. Would any­one re­spect him now? Could he carry on as leader, if he were not master even of his own of­fice?

It must have felt like the room was spin­ning, like the Earth was open­ing up in front of him. In­evitably, there must have been a cer­tain amount of self- re­crim­i­na­tion. How could he have been so blind? Why had he not sus­pected? Lit­tle things that seemed in­no­cent be­fore — the way ev­ery­one sud­denly shut up when he en­tered the room, that time Nigel bor­rowed his Black­Berry with­out ask­ing — must have sud­denly taken on a darker hue.

And then, the fears: If he could have been kept in the dark about this, he must have won­dered, if the peo­ple he trusted most could have con­spired in such a scheme, so re­pug­nant to him in ev­ery re­spect, and not only done so but lied about it to his face, and gone on ly­ing even af­ter the scheme had been ex­posed — for he must surely have made the most search­ing in­quiries af­ter the story first broke — well, what else could they have been up to all these years? What else did he know noth­ing about? What other lies had they told him? These things don’t usu­ally hap­pen just once, af­ter all. There’s usu­ally a pat­tern.

And yet, this good man, de­ceived, hu­mil­i­ated, be­trayed on all sides, found it in his heart to for­give them. You or I, had we found our­selves in the same po­si­tion, might have taken the most foul sort of re­venge: fired the lot, pa­raded them in front of the media, forced them to an­swer for what they had done. But that is not, we can see now, Harper’s way: this sup­pos­edly ruth­less au­to­crat, this cold, vin­dic­tive brute of car­i­ca­ture, re­sponded to this mon­u­men­tal breach of trust with com­pre­hen­sive mercy. No one was fired, though some were al­lowed to leave. Some are even trav­el­ling with him on his cam­paign. He was even go­ing to for­give Wright, and would have, had it tested bet­ter.

But now the bray­ing jack­als in the press gallery are de­mand­ing he fire Ray Novak, Wright’s re­place­ment as chief of staff, af­ter ev­i­dence was pre­sented at Duffy’s trial that he, too, knew that Wright had paid off Duffy, con­trary to ev­ery state­ment he or Harper or any­one in his of­fice had made un­til, well, this very week. In the name of all that’s de­cent: can’t they at least let the man grieve a lit­tle? For God’s sake, this is Ray Novak we’re talk­ing about, the clos­est of his clos­est ad­vis­ers, the one com­monly de­scribed as be­ing “like a son” to him — his eyes and ears, the guy he de­pended on to tell him things. And now he finds out that even Novak was ly­ing to him? The press com­plain Harper won’t an­swer their ques­tions. Frankly, I’m amazed he can even stand up­right.

Oh, we have mis­judged him, all right. More than that, we have mis­treated him. Af­ter what Harper has gone through these last two years, he de­serves not our con­dem­na­tion, but our deep­est sym­pa­thy.

For God’s sake, this is Ray Novak we’re talk­ing about, the clos­est of his clos­est ad­vis­ers, the one com­monly de­scribed as be­ing ‘ like a son’ to him. ... And now he finds out that even Novak was ly­ing to him? An­drew Coyne Imag­ine the hu­mil­i­a­tion, to have been played for a patsy in this way — him, Stephen Harper.

ERNEST DOROSZUK/ POST­MEDIA NEWS

Imag­ine the sense of be­trayal Stephen Harper must have felt, writes An­drew Coyne, when he re­al­ized that ev­ery­thing he had been led to be­lieve about the Sen. Mike Duffy af­fair was a lie.

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