05.27.2013 09:44 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: an unlikely Conservative pair

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.


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    smelter rat says:

    Who came up with the bright idea to give Duffy the 90 G’s? Better yet, who has 90 G’s sitting around for such a purpose? There is way ore to this than meets the eye. I wish Wright would start singing.

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    Arnold Murphy says:

    What is worth so much, that a man would sacrifice his integrity and reputation for? Do Conservatives ever put anything into context or proportion? Do they honestly believe that they could control over 33 000 000 people to the point no one would question their actions, and the media, do they not understand the consequences of humoring Harper like Duffy did? Do they not understand what little peons we all are in the big picture>? It’s like this Warren, as I see it, no matter what you do to the Truth no matter if there is no one that believes it, it is still the Truth and a lie is a lie. When the history books are written, everything is reviewed in miniscule detail, the facts arise from the consequences of their actions. If they think that they won’t have to answer eventually, they are delusional, the facts will come out sooner or later. We may be both long gone, but history will record the results of their actions, just as the market leaves it’s trail of paper and companies like Enron and Nortel fail as a result of poor management and fraud so to will their actions fail because they are ill conceived. Harper is a man of the end justifies the means, this is Machiavellian and we both know the rope was waiting for him in the end as well. What do these people learn in political science if not history and consequences? Maybe they should read less of the Prince and more of the life of Machiavelli as the means truly give rise to consequences more often then they do the intended end. The Napoleonic complex is something most politicians have a stripe of, but there too, is no example to live by. If you live by the sword, it is most likely you will also fall by the sword and this may be Harper’s Waterloo.

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    Neil says:

    Is Wright really so ethical? I mean look what he did, everyone says he is ethical but he did not behave so. Sure everyone makes mistakes, lord knows II have but he did do something profoundly unethical so does he still deserve everyone talking about how ethical he is when he frankly wasnt. I am sure he is a better man than me more charitable, harder working, maybe smarter, but does he still get to be called ethical

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      tf says:

      I have a similar response.
      I knew nothing about Mr. Wright before this story broke but when I first heard the fact that he was on loan from “the private-equity giant Onex Corporation and a prominent Bay Street dealmaker”, I thought “maybe they do things differently in the private sector…?”
      Public service means they are accountable to Canadians; a Bay Street dealmaker is accountable to the shareholders. Different values, different way of operating.

      Thanks Warren, for the fabulous reporting you’ve been doing in the past many days! I appreciate the opportunity to comment!

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        Chris says:

        The only people saying that he is ethical are his connected and/or insider friends.

        The rest of us “average canadians” see him as a rich, arrogant, out of touch and self-interested. How else could he think that dropping $90k to keep some secrets secret would be seen as even remotely acceptable?

        I’m renovating my house and it will cost me around $90k – it’s going to take me 20 years to pay it off. It really feels great to know that their are rich assholes surrounding my “man of the people” PM making sure he acts in the best interests of Canadians (yeah, right)

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        Darwin O'Connor says:

        When someone embezzles funds in the private sector, usually they prefer to hush it up and help him pay it off, rather then getting the police involved. They don’t want the bad publicity.

        You’re not allowed the to that in public sector.

        Of course, that is why the public sector is perceived to be corrupt while the private sector is perceived to be clean and efficient when its probably at least as corrupt and wasteful.

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    Bruce A says:

    “You should be cautious of the company you keep. Associating with those of low reputation may not only lower your own but also lead you astray by the faulty assumptions, premises and data of the unscrupulous.”

    Stevie Harper’s judgement has always been an issue with me, whether it’s Arthur Porter and the Ford Brothers or The Gang of Three Conservative Senators. It’s too long a list.

    Harper gets it wrong too many times. Yet the myth persists that he’s the steady hand on the tiller. What we need is someone with decent eye-hand coordination and doesn’t swing at the first pitch.

    Does he even try to vet people? It sure doesn’t look like it. And yes, I think Harper was right in the middle of this. The Duff Man just looks too comfortable for a public official who may well find himself in court.

    Harper seems to distracted by his distractions.

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      Kev says:

      Arthur Porter, the Fords, Duffy, Brazeau, Bruce Carson, Penashue…

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    Kelly says:

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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    Houland Wolfe says:

    I’m speculating just a little, but Duffy’s big threat is that he is going to reveal that the P.M.’s marriage was a sham and Harper’s wife is more in love with John Baird than with Harper, just like most Conservatives.

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    Rockfish says:

    Neil, don’t question the ethics of the deliveryman, who is just following orders. While the “straight arrow” and “highly ethical” descriptions are over the top, as always when someone’s career choice is to work for a snake, they also sound suitably similar as to those glowing epithets levelled for a recently deceased senator – one who played a large role in trying to purchase the vote of a dying MP on behalf of the Scarborough Snake. Glowing terms seem to be part of the burial ritual, whether of the physical or career kind…

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    MississaugaPeter says:

    The recent provincial, Liberal leadership race revealed to me that politicians and those around them, will do anything to win, and think that their transgressions will never see the light of day.

    Flying from Shanghai Sunday night, a fellow Mississauga resident next to me said that politicians have a spotlight on them and they can not keep anything private. I told him that is complete CRAP. With no television few folks knew of Roosevelt and his wheel chair, Kennedy’s philandering was hushed up, no one but hacks knew Martin’s steamships flew foreign flags, and both Ford’s histories were quick examples I gave to him that his opinion was wrong.

    Nigel Wright when young, like many of us, was highly ethical and idealistic, even to the point of considering priesthood. Reality, age, and hobnobbing with the rich and powerful changes that ethical and idealistic individual. Whereas at a young age, the means did not justify the ends, as time progressed, the ends justified the means. Purgatory and hell for those who were at one time saints. Examples are all around us.

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    Cath says:

    “In Ottawa, chiefs of staff simply do not keep their bosses from knowing such things. (I was one; I know that much, too.)”

    Last night on TVO Paikin had 4 former Chiefs of Staff on The Agenda and asked them if in their time as Chief of Staff they’d every done anything without their boss knowing about it. Yes, they had. A couple gave specific examples. I believe he had the former Chief of Staff for McGuinty, Peterson, Mulroney and Harris.

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    J.W. says:

    Would Harper deny knowledge of this so categorically, knowing if his deceit was revealed he would be finished? Wouldn’t he, be finished?

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    MCBellecourt says:

    Aside from the fact that ignorance of the law is no excuse when you break it, it was Nigel Wright’s responsibility to know the legal implications of what he had done. It was his business to know the law in this regard, as he was the PMO chief. I also heard it said that he had a law degree, and if so, there is no way he didn’t know.

    Ethical, my ass.

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      MCBellecourt says:

      Oh, and by the way, he says he’s ‘living with the consequences’. Yeah, right. What a crock. He’s insulated from the real consequences of his actions by the very fact that he’s worth more money that God, and he’ll be protected by the best justice that his abundant money could buy, whereas the rest of us ordinary slobs would face financial ruin at the very least, if not some serious friggin’ jail time on top of that. His little act of contrition is just that–an act. Don’t get sucked into it.

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    Glen says:

    “The Duffy Solution”

    New band name!

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    Merrill Smith says:

    I think it’s time to stop calling this a Senate scandal and call it a PMO scandal.

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    billg says:

    What exactly is the scandal? A cheque, that can be traced, was used to help Duffy pay back money. How is paying back money to the taxpayers a scandal? Mr Harper’s biggest mistake was appointing Mike Duffy to the Senate. Mr Wright is a rich man, he penned a cheque to Duffy to help Duffy pay back money he should have never expensed.
    Are Conservative scandals now about giving money back to taxpayers?
    No bags of cash, no hotels changed hands, just money being given back in an awkward manner. Ah the good old days when a scandal was about money being stolen.

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    Dave Kurgen says:

    Say Warren, you don’t think it might have something to do with this? http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/05/27/harper-and-newfoundland-a-mystery-solved/#more-388487 . Now I know that you’re not big on Paul Wells very often, but what his most recent blog article mentions is that Wright was being forced to handle CETA negotiations solo more or less, and that fighting Premier Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland for the deregulation of the fisheries may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Apparently, according to the article, Wright was being dumped with these files as Harper’s usual gang of “Not Ready for International Negotiation Prime Time Players” were botching this agreement left, right and center. And remember this is the same Harper cabinet that refuses to meet with the provinces on these types of trade issues, so he must of thought of himself being really clever to throw this at the “smartest man in the room”, while he endlessly obsesses over pipelines to the expense of everything else in the country.

    Look at it this way Warren, what if Jean Chrétien told you to solve the Balkan civil wars back in the 1990’s as a one man negotiation machine, with one hand tied behind your back, while having a suspended desk above a pod of killer whales? You’d probably crack sooner or later if you don’t have a good team behind you or extensive experience in international relations. And I suspect that the Dunderdale incident might be the tip of the iceberg, where Wright had to be quantum leaping from one intergovernmental trade mess to another.

    Long story short, I think that Wright got tired of being janitor to Harper’s mostly goon-ish squad, and decided to get a big old helping of “quit”, then to continue duking it out. And what better way to get fired, than to purposely tarnish your own name in bright public no less?

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