Sunday, February 21, 2016

Duffy Trial & Political Judgement in Ottawa*

The trial of Canadian Senator Mike Duffy, which resumes this week, got me thinking about a past interaction I had with him in an online forum in 1998.

Before being sent to Canada's upper Chamber a few years ago, Mike Duffy was a successful political journalist. The 1990's were tumultuous times for the conservative movement in Canada.  Many members of the old Progressive Conservative (PC) Party were anticipating Joe Clark's return to federal politics.  The PCs faced a majority Liberal government and a strong competitor for the right wing vote in Canada, in the shape of Preston Manning's new Reform Party.  Some thought the return of former Prime Minister Clark might revive the ailing fortunes of the PCs at the Federal level

Online forums were something of a novelty in 1998 and, I suspect, had only a few participants.  When I typed out a question, I was nonetheless surprised that I received an almost immediate reply.  I asked then 'Mr.' Duffy what he thought of Clark's political comeback.  He responded by criticizing the former Prime Minister's political acuity.  To paraphrase, Duffy said that in politics you can do a makeover of someone, do their hair, cap their teeth, but, and these typed words I remember clearly,

"there's no fix for bad judgement."

Ironic words now, given that questionable judgement seems to be at the heart of the criminal proceeding against Duffy. This includes his judgement in claiming money for allegedly inappropriate housing expenses as a Conservative Senator.  It may also include the judgement of staff members of Prime Minister Harper's own office, who may have tried to make the scandal go away by secretly writing a personal cheque to cover Duffy's outstanding expenses.

These events are doubly ironic, perhaps, given that the Conservatives first came to power in 2006, based in part on promises to enhance transparency and to hold government, and all its officials, better accountable.

Duffy was wrong about one thing.  There is, at least, one fix for bad judgement by political leaders.  Politicians are directly accountable to the people in a democracy.  In the Fall of 2015, Canadians voted out the Conservatives and elected a majority Liberal government. 

Senator Duffy's recent conduct will also be under further scrutiny again this week, and a court of law will soon render its own judgment on the entire affair.

*UPDATE: On April 21, 2016 the Court acquitted Senator Duffy of all charges.  The judge in the case expressed criticism of the Prime Minister's office and its actions, and accepted Senator's Duffy's testimony and evidence as credible.  Though suspended from his official duties, following this decision, Senator Duffy can resume his position in Canada's Upper Chamber.

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