The Prime Minister explains by proxy

Some clarification of what the Prime Minister didn't know

After some confusion about his answers to reporter’s questions on Thursday, Mr. Harper’s office confirmed that he did not know about efforts to have the party cover Mr. Duffy’s expenses. And after a “no” from the Prime Minister on Friday, Mr. Harper’s office clarified that he had no knowledge of Senator Irving Gerstein’s efforts in regard to Deloitte.

And after those two appearances by Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister’s director of communications spoke this weekend to the CBC, GlobalCTV and the Canadian Press.

In Jason MacDonald’s conversation with CTV, we get straightforward confirmation on three fronts: according to his spokesman, the Prime Minister didn’t know about efforts to influence the Deloitte audit of Mike Duffy, didn’t know about the possibility that the Conservative party might cover Mr. Duffy’s expenses and didn’t know that his staff sought to edit the Senate report on Mr. Duffy.

And had the Prime Minister known about attempts to influence the Deloitte audit, he apparently would’ve put a stop to them.

Perhaps it would’ve been useful for the Prime Minister to have explained this all himself, clearly and thoroughly and publicly in the wake of this week’s filing by the RCMP. Maybe he could have stood somewhere—like, say, if we had a really nice-looking place specifically designed as some kind of venue for speeches by our elected representatives, maybe somewhere located in or near our national capital, we could even give the Prime Minister his own seat or spot in this place—and explained what he knew, or rather all of the things of which he was apparently unaware.

CTV’s Robert Fife lands the really difficult question at the 6:15 of his interview: why didn’t the Prime Minister investigate this matter as soon as it was reported in May and explain to the public what had occurred?

As it is, because his statement on June 5 about who in his office was aware of what Nigel Wright did, it is probably fair to wonder how much the Prime Minister did to investigate this himself.

And as for Mr. MacDonald’s explanations, the Canadian Press now wonders what he meant when he said the plan was to “compel” Mr. Duffy to repay his expenses.

The “comms” question to be debated by future generations of “public relations” students is whether the Prime Minister might’ve done better to explain everything at the earliest opportunity. Of course, hindsight is unfair and everyone thinks they’re a political strategist, but it’s tempting to conclude that an early airing of the facts would have been preferable to the last six months of regular revelations and discoveries. But possibly Mr. Harper did not have any idea on May 16 that this is what the next six months were going to bring (if he had, he probably would’ve made sure Mr. Wright exited the PMO more promptly).

Maybe showing a willingness to be forthcoming wouldn’t have helped. Maybe explaining yourself to some degree only makes it easier for opponents and voters to demand more explanation than you’re willing to provide. Maybe explaining oneself doesn’t so much answer all the questions so much as it leads to new questions. But maybe we should decide on demanding some new standard of explanation from our political leaders. Like, say, for instance, the federal government was set to reduce its spending in various ways by billions of dollars. We might expect said government to submit to a thorough accounting of those reductions. Or we could even expect one of the government’s ministers to stand in that place we were imagining a few paragraphs ago and table such an accounting.

Government control of information and a general reluctance to explain is hardly a new matter for discussion. But we might at least use this moment to imagine some changes for the future.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.