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September 15, 2015

Harper: Is he telling the truth regarding Duffy?

The Canadian Charger

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In the fall of 2013, in the midst of the controversy about former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright's secret payment of $90,000 to cover what the RCMP considers to be Senator Duffy's fraudulent expenses, Prime Minister Stephen Harper - as he has proven so adept at doing - sidestepped a reporter's question about this issue with the following reply:

“For those who are concerned about the Senate matter, I need only point out that it was this party, the Conservative Party that for the first time required transparency on Senate expenses. And only this party that sanctioned those who have not respected the rules, the prime minister said.

“The Liberal Party opposed transparency, and opposed having any sanctions for people who disregarded the rules,” Mr. Harper said.

Fast forward to August 2015 to find evidence that Mr. Harper's 2013 statement on the Duffy scandal – as it has now blossomed into – is inconsistent with the truth.

Mr. Harper continued to deny knowledge of Mr. Wright's secret payment to Senator Duffy and he continued to voice confidence in his current chief of staff, Ray Novak, despite court testimony that Mr. Novak knew about the secret payment to Senator Duffy.

Kory Teneycke, Conservative Party of Canada's chief spokesman for the 2015 federal election, moved to shield Mr. Novak from damaging court testimony at the Duffy trial.

“It's unfathomable that Ray would be aware of a payment from Nigel to Mr. Duffy and not tell the Prime Minister,” Mr. Teneycke said. “That's just unfathomable.”

Meanwhile, an August 22, 2015 Toronto Star article reported that the Liberals joined the NDP in asking the RCMP to expand its investigation by looking into messages sent to and from Mr. Harper's current chief of staff Ray Novak.

Mr. Novak is Mr. Harper's his longest-serving political staffer; the only one who was with the leader when he merged the Reform/Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservative party to become the Conservative Party of Canada and the only one who has stuck with Mr. Harper or has not been thrown under the bus.

Notwithstanding former PMO lawyer Ben Perrin's testimony at the Duffy trial that Mr. Novak was in the room when Mr. Wright told Mr. Perrin and Mr. Novak that he would be paying the 90,000 for Mr. Duffy, Mr. Novak told CTV's Robert Fife, on Friday August 28, 2015 that he did not know about that cheque.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Harper responded to a question about what Mr. Novak knew, when he knew it and what he told Mr. Harper, with: “Mr. Novak has been very clear with me.”

However Mr. Harper did not answer the question about what Mr. Novak knew, when he knew it and what he told Mr. Harper about Mr. Wright's cheque.

In reality, Mr. Novak was copied on scores of emails at the height of Mr. Wright's efforts, including a March 23, 2013 email saying, “I will send my cheque Monday” to Duffy’s lawyer.  However, in the August 28 interview with CTV's Robert Fife, Mr. Novak denied reading or seeing a March 23, 2013 email that clearly indicated Mr. Wright was paying Senator Duffy's bill.

“I first saw that email when it was disclosed much, much later,” Mr. Novak said.

Evidence entered at the Duffy trial showed that as many as 13 PMO staff and top Conservative party officials were involved in or copied on emails about Mr. Wright's decision to issue a $90,000 bank draft from his own account to Mr. Duffy's lawyer.

On many days since the revelations about the Duffy payoff first emerged, the controversy was the prime focus of questions in the House of Commons.

It’s just that no one in the government felt the slightest pressure to give a straight answer - ever. One prominent Canadian journalist said: “They're answering serious questions about government business with answers about the Grey Cup.”

Mr. Harper has framed the Duffy scandal as one man secretly repaying the improper expenses of another. Meanwhile, other controversial actions of his staff and senators — efforts to curtail or glean information from a confidential audit, the whitewashing of a Senate report, the general misleading of the public — have never been directly addressed, or even criticized for that matter.

Despite insisting he's been “clear,” Mr. Harper has obfuscated and contradicted himself repeatedly about how many people in the PMO were in the loop on details of the Duffy repayment plan; whether Mr. Wright resigned or Mr. Harper “dismissed” him; about the Conservative party's role in matter and whether donor funds would be used to pay “inappropriate” expenses.

It's worth noting that initially Mr. Wright's plan to pay Senator Duffy's “inappropriate” expenses was out of the public eye and it would have remained so had fortune been on the side of the Harper government.

Unfortunately, this thing called transparency reared its ugly head and proceeded to expose Mr. Harper as a man who cannot be believed – a man who will say anything that suits his purposes at the time.

A recent Angus Reid poll said 59 percent of Canadians do not believe Mr. Harper's version of events. Almost a quarter of the respondents who identified themselves as leaning towards the right-of-center Conservatives said Mr. Harper's account was untrue.

The Globe and Mail - one of Canada's most influential newspapers - said in a recent editorial hat "today we are ruled by an imperial prime minister, unaccountable to anyone or anything."

The newspaper endorsed Mr. Harper in the 2011 election.

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