Lining up for question period

The National Post reports a curious phenomenon this week: the Parliament of Canada has become a popular entertainment.

The National Post reports a curious phenomenon this week: the Parliament of Canada has become a popular entertainment. Spectators are lining up around the block to view question period, and those who are left disappointed when the great oak doors are pulled shut rush down the hall to see what the Senate has to offer.

As one who used to skip high school to sit in my parents’ basement and watch the Watergate hearings on TV, I think I understand what motivates the crowds in the gallery. It’s not the revelations we’ve already heard that keep us watching, it’s the unanswered questions. Once we perched on the edges of our chairs waiting to hear what the Johns and Bobs of the Nixon White House would reveal next. Today we await the answer to two burning questions: who is Arthur Hamilton, and where is Nigel Wright?

If the Senate does for Harper what Watergate did for Nixon, the names of Hamilton and Wright will be forever joined in the history books as the two men who signed questionable cheques for Mike Duffy. Of the two, pit-bull party lawyer Hamilton is most likely to slip back into the shadows, where he has always insisted he is “not the story.”

When accused of tainting Elections Canada interviews in the robocalls investigation by sitting in and coaching PMO staffers, Hamilton was quiet. When it was revealed that at least one of those staffers “had no choice” in the matter, suggesting that Hamilton was there to represent the party and not the individual, he said not a word in his own defence. When Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley described his attempts to suppress the robocalls case as “trench warfare,” Hamilton remained silent. Unless he’s called upon to testify under oath, it’s not likely he’ll break from pattern in the Senate scandal.

Wright was never a shadowy figure. A major Bay Street investor and a player in Canadian conservatism since the Mulroney days, Wright was, according to Conservative Party president John Walsh, “a huge coup for the Conservative government … one of the brightest and best Canada has to offer.” Others saw him as a traveller through the well-known revolving door between conservative political parties and the corporate world.

Wright’s appointment could hardly have been a better example of the revolving door phenomenon, given that he took leave of absence instead of resigning from his directorship at Onex Corporation, a holding company with a major interest in the F-35 fighter jet, and retained his company shares, said to be valued at $3.5 million. As Jack Layton said at the time, “the military industrial complex has come to Ottawa and come to the Prime Minister’s Office.”

In response to these challenges, Wright insisted he had built an “ethical wall” around his business interests that would keep him from violating conflict of interest rules. “The common sense protection of my reputation, and the reputation of the prime minister are absolutely critical, so this matters to me, this matters to the government, and we will get it right.”

Today that reputation lies in tatters, clawed to bits by those two battling cats, Mike Duffy and Stephen Harper. Canada waits for Wright to come out swinging the way America once waited for the latest revelation from John Dean, or the truth about seven minutes of missing audio tape. Or as Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert puts it, “it is now in Wright’s power – if he has a case to make for himself to clear his name – to destroy the prime minister.”

Without a doubt both Hamilton and Wright could shed much-needed light on Harper’s role in the Senate scandal. Hamilton won’t. He’s a party lawyer and a fierce partisan and Harper has so far said nothing disloyal about him in public. Cornered, Wright could be forced to defend himself, but don’t expect any of the kind of lashing out we’ve seen from the disgraced senators. The Senate scandal is only one aspect of the never-ending project to maintain the most corporate-friendly government possible, and both of these men still believe in that project.

Just like the Watergate burglary, the Senate scandal could be the can of worms out of which pops the truth about robocalls, the F-35 debacle, and who knows what slimy things connected to the get-elected-at-all-costs mentality. The only sure way to pry the can open is to call a full inquiry, with power to subpoena witnesses, where there are no small fibs, only truth and perjury.

Harper will never call that inquiry. He will rest his hopes on the public forgetting all about this latest scandal by the time election day rolls around. It could work for him. It has before. But let’s hope not. It would be a shame for a story like this to fade to black just when the public is starting to get interested in politics.

Al Pope won the Canadian Community Newspaper Award for best columnist in 2013. He also won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.

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