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?
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.
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.