Musings —05.27.2013 09:44 PM—
It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma: Why did Nigel Wright destroy his political career to protect Mike Duffy?
In Ottawa political circles, it’s one of the many Senate scandal questions now being mooted every day.
Why would the prime minister’s chief of staff — the most powerful unelected person in Canada — put his reputation at risk for a lowly senator, one who was already distrusted and disliked by the Prime Minister’s Office?
None of it makes any sense. None of it adds up. And that’s particularly so when you look at the background of players in the controversy, which has left Stephen Harper’s Conservative regime battered and reeling.
I’m familiar with both Duffy and Wright. Trust me when I say there could not be two people in Ottawa more unalike.
Wright, among political operatives of all stripes, is considered to be as ethical as he is straight-laced. Born in Hamilton, adopted by a family of modest means, Wright was hard-working, religious and brilliant from the start. He attended the University of Toronto, and received multiple accolades. Later, he sought a master’s degree at Harvard. For a time, he considered becoming an Anglican priest.
As a young man, Wright was a member of a group of young Conservatives — along with Tom Long and (full disclosure) my ex-wife — who helped push Brian Mulroney into the prime minister’s chair. Later, he was a Bay Street lawyer and businessman who devoted himself to charitable causes, ran marathons, and was held in the highest regard by many folks.
Mike Duffy, as noted, could not have been more different. Born in P.E.I., Duffy got his start as a radio disc jockey, and attracted attention while working as TV reporter for CBC News.
Later, he hosted CTV’s Sunday Edition, which showcased Duffy’s affable personality, but not much in the way of hard news. Off-camera, the Rubenesque Duffy was ubiquitous on the Hill, and was renowned as a glad-handing fellow who had an eye for attractive women — and who could drink with the best of them.
Where Wright’s secret ambition was to be a priest, Duffy could not have been more open about his — he wanted to be a senator. So well-known was this, that many denizens of the Hill called him “Senator.”
After a 2008 hatchet job on a campaigning Stephane Dion, Duffy got his wish, and was appointed to the Red Chamber by Harper. He was disciplined by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for broadcasting Dion’s remarks that CTV agreed would not be broadcast — an error in discretion and decency and a cause for concern. He was not part of the inner circle.
Why, then, did Wright — who followed the unravelling Senate expenses scandal closely, and was highly familiar with Duffy’s role in it — place himself in harm’s way for a disgraced broadcaster?
Because the man he was protecting wasn’t Mike Duffy. It was Stephen Harper. And the $90,000 that he offered Duffy out of his own bank account wasn’t money to help out a friend in need.
It was money to shut Duffy up. There is no way — none — that Harper could not have been briefed about the Duffy “solution” by Wright. In Ottawa, chiefs of staff simply do not keep their bosses from knowing such things. (I was one; I know that much, too.)
And now, Harper has the worst of all outcomes: A respected and admired top aide, gone.
And stuck with a scandal — and a reviled senator — which will never, ever go away.