The RCMP has cleared Nigel Wright of any criminal wrongdoing in the Mike Duffy Senate expense scandal.
It may be surprising, but apparently paying a Canadian senator $90,000 so he can pay back expenses which might never have been legitimate in the first place is not illegal.
Wright — a longtime backroom operative for the Harper government — is delighted with the outcome.
“My intention was to secure the repayment of taxpayer funds,” Wright said.
He claimed vindication in a statement issued by his lawyer, saying, “The RCMP’s detailed and thorough investigation has now upheld my position.”
The charges were serious. Wright was under investigation for bribery, fraud and breach of public trust. His friend and leader Stephen Harper threw him under the bus when things got too hot, and reportedly fired him from his job as chief of staff. Wright remained a good soldier throughout and has never really spoken about the matter in any detail.
Several months ago, I predicted that Wright would eventually give a public account of his actions and attempt to justify his gift to Duffy. The end of the RCMP investigation might make that happen. With the threat of criminal charges lifted, Wright should have little reason to remain silent. He has no compelling reason to stay loyal to Harper, and with the rumour mill whispering that the PM is planning his exit from politics, the time for Wright to speak is fast approaching.
The dropped charges don’t end the story for either Wright or Duffy. The conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, can now restart her investigation into the scandal, and the standards used to determine whether parliamentary rules have been violated are not quite as onerous as those of the justice system. She’s been waiting for the outcome of the police investigation and, according to officials in her office, she has the detailed report from the RCMP and will be reviewing the matter.
Wright could find himself testifying in court if charges are ever laid against Duffy, and that RCMP investigation is continuing. Still, it will be more difficult now to charge Duffy with something like accepting a bribe, for example, if the police have determined that Wright’s cheque was not a bribe, but a gift.
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Will this story go away now? I think not. The opposition parties will be chomping at the bit to question the prime minister when the House of Commons reopens after Easter. Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said as much when responding to the news about Wright.
“I think Canadians still have a right to know exactly what went on, what the prime minister knew and when he knew it.”
No one can challenge that.
Let’s be honest, here: Wright’s gift to Duffy was given in order to kill the story and end the scandal before it really got started. It had nothing to do with any largesse on his part. As the PM’s chief of staff, he wanted the bad news to go away. Instead, he fumbled the ball and made things worse. He paid a high political price for that misstep, and his reputation has suffered for it. And he did it all to cover for Harper, who cut him loose in the end, saying, “There is only one person responsible for this deception and that person is Mr. Wright,”
The conclusion of the police investigation is the first piece of good news for Nigel Wright since this story started.
What will he do now? Rumour has it that he will head back to the private sector at Onex Corporation. He went to work for Harper on a leave of absence from Onex and it looks like he may return, even though the company is not obligated to take him back.
Wright should do one more thing before he heads back to Bay Street: tell us what really happened.
Speak Nigel, speak.
Randy Simms is a political commentator
and broadcaster. He can be reached at: