Evasive manoeuvres

Patrick Butler
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We’ve reached a point in the Senate expense scandal where the axe is about to fall. Who eventually gets cut and how fatal the blows will be is really all that remains to be determined. In the meantime, it’s shields up and heads down for anyone embroiled in the firestorm engulfing the Senate.

Mike Duffy doddles silently out of the Senate between boister-

ous, infomercial-inspired speeches, mumbling barely audible sweet nothings to the camera as he goes. Prime Minister Stephen Harper deftly dodges question period bullets from Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, ignoring straightforward questions with ease and maintaining the same tried-and-true talking points scripted long before their utterance. Pamela Wallin, flanked by Mounties, avoids eye contact while walking, with forced smile and clenched teeth, through volatile scrums.

For the handful of main players in the ever-present Senate scandal, it is a game of evasive manoeuvres.

Eyes forward, don’t blink, look confident, don’t be clever, stay calm, say nothing — and don’t screw up. Because anything and everything you do is being scrutinized. They’re baying for your blood.

It is an understandable political move. Speak when it is your time to speak and avoid the hellfire that could accompany any uncalculated action. The eyes of the nation are trained on you, after all.

But for the public, the constant evasion is a frustratingly suspenseful, confusing process. There’s little information to go on and a lot

of speculation to sift through.

Furthermore, prime information sources for much of the scandal are, in fact, stakeholders with agendas of their own.

Duffy’s new information serves mostly to widen the circle of high-echelon PMO and Conservative party staff allegedly aware of his backroom dealings, further muddying the waters rather than clarifying the story. Harper’s story is even more confusing, alleging he, the notorious micro-manager, was altogether unaware of the actions of a steadily increasing number of PMO and Conservative party staffers.

The fact is, without definitive, verified, reliable information, the facts of the Senate scandal remain murky and the truth elusive.

Luckily there’s question period to clear the air. And with Canadians focused on Ottawa in the wake of continuing scandal, what better, more public way to do it?

But wait, question period isn’t really about clarification and accountability, is it?

Instead it’s the same cowardly game — evasive manoeuvres all over again, not answers — leaving Canadians with ever more questions and no more understanding than we started with. All we really get are indirect, unclear responses that justify little and explain just as much. There’s no accountability to Parliament or to Canadians in that.

During question period last week, Mulcair asked, “Exactly what work was done by the law firm Nelligan O’Brien Payne on behalf of the prime minister to merit seeing members of the Conservative party pay $13,000 to that firm? How is that possible? What real work was done if it were a valid legal expense?”

Harper’s reply: “Mr. Speaker, the Conservative party, as do other parties, provide legal assistance to their members of Parliament.

“In the case of the leader of the NDP, it is my understanding, and he can confirm, that not only has his party in the past paid for certain legal expenses, it even paid findings of wrongdoing against him by a court of law. The party paid almost $100,000 in damages on his behalf. Could he confirm that?”

In question period, it appears the prime minister can effectively ignore a question looking to clarify allegations of his misconduct. Furthermore, he can respond to these legitimate queries, not with answers but with snide retorts, deflecting potshots across the floor.

Don’t answer, just change the subject or say nothing at all. Sadly, it’s a policy of self-protection that pervades Ottawa and hampers the public accountability of elected officials. And for politicos like Harper, Wallin and Duffy, it’s a strategy that’s proven itself useful of late.

With the axe about to fall, it’s avoidance or bust.

Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception

Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism program at Carleton University. He can

 be reached by email at patrickbutler5@yahoo.ca.

Organizations: NDP, Carleton University

Geographic location: Ottawa

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