What the hell happened here?

The Commons: Of Wright and Duffy and the Senate, there is only one question that needs be answered

Furious David Christopherson stood and invoked original sin.

“Mr. Speaker, on February 17, the Prime Minister answered in the House that: ‘All senators conform to the residency requirements,’ ” the NDP deputy recalled.

Mr. Christopherson would seem to have the date wrong, but otherwise the Prime Minister does seem to have said this.

“The Senate audit report contradicted this and concluded that Senator Duffy’s primary residence was Ottawa not P.E.I. Yet when the final report was tabled, this key paragraph had been erased,” the New Democrat now charged. “Last night, we learned that the Prime Minister’s former communications director, now a senator, helped whitewash the Duffy report. Can the government tell us whether anyone in the PMO was aware that this report contradicted their Prime Minister?”

In an alternate universe, of course, Mike Duffy was never appointed to the Senate to represent Prince Edward Island. In a third, and even better, universe, there was never even a Senate to which to appoint him.

It was here James Moore’s duty to stand and lead the government response, John Baird apparently elsewhere recovering from having to stand 23 times yesterday.

“Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the Senate report does reflect the findings of the auditor, the auditor, by the way, that both the opposition and the government agreed should be brought in, an independent, outside auditor,” Mr. Moore offered with the first of 22 responses for him this afternoon. “The report reflected that finding. I understand, of course, that new questions have been raised. That is why the Senate is looking at the matter again, and that is also why the Ethics Commissioner is looking into this, as is the Office of the Senate Ethics Commission.”

And to them you can apparently add the RCMP.

“These questions are being raised,” Mr. Moore continued. “They are being put forward. They will be answered.”

It is nice to think that they might, because as of now there are almost only questions without answers. And while new questions do indeed continue to be raised about this and that and who did or did not do whatever however, the question that has been with us since nine days ago when CTV reported the existence of some kind of arrangement between Mr. Duffy and Nigel Wright remains primary.

What the hell happened here?

It is the Prime Minister’s assurance that he knew nothing of the cheque until it became a matter of national news. But the questions of what the Prime Minister knew and when he knew it are actually quite secondary. First we need to know what it is that he could have theoretically known about. And right now we don’t know that.

Was there an agreement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy? If so, what did it entail? If Mr. Wright wrote a cheque, why did Mr. Duffy take out a loan? Did Mr. Duffy take out a loan? Why did Mr. Wright write a cheque? If there was an agreement, did it involve anything more than money? And was anyone else involved in the discussions between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy?

In the absence of anything like clarity about much of anything, we are left to parse every sentence of every statement uttered or released by anyone who might be even vaguely connected to whatever it is that might have occurred. This is no way to live.

“Were any lawyers in the PMO aware of what Nigel Wright and Senator Duffy were cooking up?” Mr. Christopherson begged awhile later.

“Mr. Speaker, we are not aware of any legal agreement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. It is as simple as that,” Mr. Moore responded, not answering the question at all.

Even in not providing any new insight to what the hell happened here, Mr. Moore managed to stumble. “Nigel Wright says that he acted solely,” Mr. Moore said at one point. But if Mr. Wright has said this, it is not clear where. In the statement issued upon his resignation, Mr. Wright said only that he had not informed the Prime Minister of whatever it was he did.

The Liberals and New Democrats seem interested in an email of February 20. The Liberals seem to believe the government is in possession of it. But if the government does possess it, it’s not saying.

“Mr. Speaker, first things first,” Mr. Moore declared in response to some parsing of the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday by the NDP’s Craig Scott. “As I have said a few times now, the independent Ethics Commissioner is looking into this. Before my honourable colleague starts handing out these kinds of assessments, he might want to wait for that report to come back. That is first.”

Waiting seems a rather unsatisfactory option here.

“Second of all, of course, we agree with the leadership that the Prime Minister has shown in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent in a responsible way not only in the Senate but also in the House, and also by his staff,” Mr. Moore continued. “What Nigel Wright did was wrong. The Prime Minister was very clear about that. When he offered his resignation, the Prime Minister accepted it immediately because Canadians need to know that they have a prime minister that they can trust with their money, and they do.”

This did not seem to convince the NDP’s Nathan Cullen.

“The government is patting itself on the back when Canadians want answers. They are fed up with these non-answers, carefully parsed words and double speak from Conservatives,” the opposition House leader ventured. “Conservatives are now so desperate that they trust Liberal senators to get to the bottom of this scandal. We have asked for legal documents, but maybe all along we should have been asking for the illegal documents as well.”

Mr. Cullen offered a question and a plea.

“Did the Prime Minister ask Nigel Wright or Carolyn Stewart Olsen to look into the scandal about Mike Duffy? Enough with the spin, just give us a straight answer, for once,” he begged, chopping his hand.

In lieu of an answer, Mr. Moore offered something of a meditation on the realities of parliamentary democracy.

“As we have said, Mr. Speaker, no matter what it is that we say, the reality is the opposition is going to attack,” he lamented. “What is important here for taxpayers is that there is a process in place to examine all these questions, again, not just in 30-second exchanges in the House of Commons.”

And so perhaps any and all documents related to this matter could be tabled in the House. And perhaps we could all agree that Mr. Wright should be invited to testify under oath before a parliamentary committee for a few hours or however long it takes to understand precisely what the hell happened here.