The sketch: The Prime Minister clings to ignorance

Mr. Harper can at least point to one thing he didn’t know

The Prime Minister said he had been “very clear” and the New Democrats laughed. The Prime Minister offered to be “very clear” and the New Democrats laughed again.

“It is right in the documents about what Mr. Wright told the RCMP,” Mr. Harper reported for the House’s benefit. “He said he told me that Senator Duffy had agreed to repay the money. He told me that he did not inform me of his personal decision to pay that money himself. When I learned of that, I took the appropriate action.”

There was a bit of a stumble here—Mr. Wright conceivably not having had to tell Mr. Harper what he had not told him—but here is basically what the Prime Minister has to say for himself. He didn’t know. Specifically, he didn’t know about the cheque.

“Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps trying to hold onto a detail,” Thomas Mulcair now noted for the Speaker’s benefit. “We are talking about the whole scheme that took place in his office.”

There were grumbles from the government side.

“On February 22,” Mr. Mulcair continued, “Nigel Wright wrote: ‘I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final.’ An hour later he wrote: ‘We are good to go from the PM.’ ”

“Ohh!” exclaimed those New Democrats who had apparently not yet had time to review the documents for themselves.

Mr. Mulcair leaned in, stared at the Prime Minister and chopped his hand in Mr. Harper’s direction. “What did the Prime Minister approve during that hour?” he demanded to know.

Here now Mr. Harper would proclaim and celebrate his ignorance.

“Mr. Speaker, this is answered right in the RCMP documents. They say that Nigel Wright said the Prime Minister was aware on February 22 that Senator Duffy had agreed to repay the money,” Mr. Harper explained.

“I later learned on May 15 that was not true and let me tell members what the conclusion of the RCMP is on this. After months of interviews and review of documents, the investigator says he is not aware of any evidence that the Prime Minister was involved in the repayment or reimbursement of money to Senator Duffy or his lawyer. The RCMP could not be clearer on this.”

The Conservatives stood and cheered. Indeed, they gave their man an extended ovation for this. Huzzah for clarity. Huzzah for the RCMP. Huzzah for not knowing what one’s chief of staff did.

There are indeed sentences in today’s “information to obtain productions order” filing that suggest Mr. Harper was not aware of some details. At page 12, conveying the details of an interview with Nigel Wright, Cpl. Greg Horton writes that, “some people within the PMO were aware of the arrangement, but Prime Minister Harper was not.” At page 72, Cpl. Horton writes that he is “not aware of any evidence that the Prime Minister was involved in the repayment or reimbursement of money to Senator Duffy or his lawyer.”

That merely leaves everything else alleged within those pages to account for.

On what “broad terms” did Mr. Harper understand Mr. Wright to have operated?

What of the alleged machinations of Mr. Harper’s office to influence the Senate’s investigation and audit of Mr. Duffy? What of the alleged “efforts to withdraw Senator Duffy from the Deloitte audit”? What of the allegation that the original draft report of the Senate committee investigating Mr. Duffy “went against the media lines and conditions already agreed upon by the PMO and Senator” and that “the PMO in turn set out to have the Senate Report changed to reflect how they wanted it to appear,” the final result being a “Senate Report which lacked criticism of Senator Duffy, as the PMO wanted”?

Mr. Mulcair waited for the cheering and the yapping from the government side to subside and then he returned to the words of Mr. Wright as cited in the RCMP filing.

“Mr. Speaker, ‘We are good to go,’ ” Mr. Mulcair conveyed. “Good to go with what?”

“Mr. Speaker, good to go with Mr. Duffy repaying his own expenses,” Mr. Harper responded, “as he has acknowledged I told him to, personally, as he told everybody he had done, including the Canadian public; and when we found that was not true, we took the appropriate action, and he has been appropriately sanctioned by the Senate.”

Mr. Harper jabbed his finger and the Conservatives stood again and cheered. Gary Goodyear pointed at and heckled the NDP leader. Maxime Bernier motioned with his arms for Mr. Mulcair to keep coming. Whatever the unseemliness of this whole affair, there apparently remains some confidence on the government side that everything is going to be okay. Or that the basic facts still put the onus on someone other than their man. Or at least that ignorance is bliss.

Mr. Mulcair did, in fact, return to his feet. And then Mr. Trudeau pronounced shame on Mr. Harper.

Does the Prime Minister still believe that he bears no responsibility for the corruption in his own office?” the earnest Liberal earnestly wondered after he had been loudly mocked for proclaiming in his way that “Canadians deserve leaders who tell the truth.”

“Mr. Speaker, once again, what the RCMP has confirmed in its documents today is that two individuals, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright, are under investigation for their actions in this matter,” Mr. Harper clarified in response, “and it has also confirmed that this Prime Minister has been telling exactly the truth.”

Or at least the truth as this Prime Minister knew it to be at the time.

After Mr. Trudeau it was back to Mr. Mulcair. And after Mr. Mulcair had finished with the last of his 15 questions, the New Democrats sent up Megan Leslie, Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, Alexandre Boulerice and Charlie Angus, the Liberals dispatching Dominic LeBlanc and Ralph Goodale to join the investigation and the Prime Minister giving way to his parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, when the NDP and Liberal leaders had finished.

As the hour proceeded, there was some conferring between Mr. Mulcair and his House leader Nathan Cullen. Mr. Cullen then proceeded to the Speaker’s chair and then proceeded to walk hastily around the NDP benches, trying to find a backbencher who conceivably needed to be advised that his or her speaking spot was about to be taken by the party leader.

With matters sufficiently readjusted, the Speaker called once again on Mr. Mulcair.

“Ohh!” mocked voices on the government side.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Mulcair asked, “who ordered the whitewashing of the Deloitte audit into Senate expenses?”

Mr. Angus had already basically asked this question, but here seemingly was the question that the New Democrats had apparently decided belatedly that they wanted their leader to be seen and heard putting to the Prime Minister.

Only the Prime Minister didn’t stand up.

“Ohh!” mocked voices on the NDP side when Mr. Calandra stood instead.

Mr. Calandra would not tell us tales of how things were done in his father’s pizza store. He would instead lament for an envelope Mr. Mulcair was offered in 1994.

“Mr. Speaker, I know it is troubling for the leader of the NDP because of the contrast to him waiting 17 years to talk about the fact that he was offered a bribe,” Mr. Calandra explained. “He sees the trouble now that Quebec is going through because of his delay in speaking about that.”

Who, indeed, was Mr. Mulcair to even look in Mr. Harper’s direction without anything other than humble and admiring eyes? Who was the NDP leader to ask for anything other than advice on how to be a great prime minister?

“When he contrasts himself to this Prime Minister who, as soon as he found out, took immediate action, opened up his office and ordered them to co-operate and assist the RCMP, I know he must be embarrassed,” Mr. Calandra continued, “because there is nothing he can compare to this Prime Minister when it comes to open, accountable, reliable government, and this Prime Minister showed that leadership every single day.”

The Conservatives stood and cheered Mr. Calandra as he finished this paean to a man whose leadership is apparently writ large in a trove of emails that were handed over to the RCMP and now help form the basis of a remarkable tale about the machinations of a government.