It has, by now, proceeded well beyond the sublime and into the ridiculous. Battling to find some semblance of high ground amidst the ethical wreckage, Tory MP Joan Crockett proved once again why politicians shouldn't be allowed to Tweet at will.
Here's her offering on the Mike Duffy/Pamela Wallin/Prime Minister's Office mess: "Our govt has the highest ethical standards demonstrated by 3 resignations: 2 from Senate caucus & the PM chief of staff ... Those whose actions don't stand up to scrutiny, resign. Unlike the opposition. It's a clear demo of accountability folks from some other parties could emulate. #liberals"
Whoa. As others pointed out almost immediately, that's akin to suggesting that getting caught instantly transforms a criminal into an upstanding citizen. It also shows that the whole Senate mess is an ethical issue that completely escapes even members of Parliament.
The fuss, among other things, is about the $90,000 that Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave to Senator Mike Duffy so that Duffy could pay back the Senate for housing expenses he should not have claimed in the first place. To make matters more interesting, there is the issue that the gift from Wright to Duffy might not be a no-strings-attached gift. Much has been made about a CTV News story that suggested a now-departed lawyer for the Prime Minister's Office was involved in drafting a contract between Wright and Duffy, a contract that included the requirement that Duffy announce that he would be paying the housing allowance back. Now, while it's interesting that yet another person in the PMO would have known about the money - and that, supposedly, Stephen Harper did not - the contract (which has not been released and which the government is now denying exists) would actually change the whole complexion of the cash.
If it does exist, we have an individual paying a senator to do a particular thing - and once you're paying a public official to do something (in fact, to do anything) you're into a ground normally defined as corruption. There's also this thought: Wright must have felt a contract was needed, which suggests he didn't trust Duffy to follow through without one.
Here's Section 119. (1) from the Criminal Code: "Everyone is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who (a) being the holder of a judicial office, or being a member of Parliament or of the legislature of a province, directly or indirectly, corruptly accepts, obtains, agrees to accept or attempts to obtain, for themselves or another person, any money, valuable consideration, office, place or employment in respect of anything done or omitted or to be done or omitted by them in their official capacity." That section also applies to anyone paying a government official to do - or not do - something.
That would make a new problem for Duffy: receiving money under a contract for services means it's not a gift at all. It's a payment. And, while gifts aren't taxable, payments definitely are taxable income, even if they're later proved to be improper payments. The extra comedy is that Duffy would be voting on a federal budget that promises to "get tough" on tax cheats.
This is a mess that's not going away. If anything, the ramifications are only getting larger and larger.
The Harper government, however, seems to want to pretend it's a non-issue. Here's part of the PM's response to Wright's resignation: "Our government's top priority is, and will continue to be, securing jobs and economic growth for Canada. This is the focus of all our efforts and attention." Not that far from Crockett, really.