06.02.2013 08:25 AM

In Sunday’s Sun: not the crime, always the cover-up

It’s not the crime; it’s the cover up.

As older generations may recall, that old political axiom can be traced to the Mother of All Scandals, Watergate. Back in June 1972, five Republican operatives — White House “plumbers,” they were called — were caught breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters at Washington’s Watergate complex. It was a third-rate burglary attempt, but by the time it had run its course, it had forced the resignation of president Richard M. Nixon.

The five were connected to the aptly named CREEP — Committee to Re-elect the President — and, a few days later, Nixon discussed the break-in with his senior staff. The discussions were tape recorded, and they later made clear that Nixon wanted his loyalists to intervene in the police investigations into the burglary and cover up the plumbers’ links to the White House.

Nixon was undone by the break-in and his insistence on surreptitiously taping discussions in the Oval Office, of course. The efforts of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward at the Washington Post didn’t help, either. But what ultimately led to his August 1974 resignation was the evidence found on the tapes, which clearly showed that Nixon wanted the CIA to obstruct the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Watergate. The cover -up, not the burglary.

The “cancer on the presidency” can now be seen, in a different context, in both Ottawa and Toronto. The two Conservatives who preside over the largest fiefdoms — Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mayor Rob Ford — are struggling to contain growing scandals that contain odd parallels to Watergate.

Like Nixon, Harper and Ford have been obliged to end their relationships with their most trusted aides, their chiefs of staff. Like Nixon, the two Conservative icons have adopted a self-defeating communications strategy that has pinballed between sullen silence, angry denials, and pathetically transparent attempts to change the channel. Like Nixon, Harper and Ford have shaken the confidence of their conservative core. And, as in Watergate, the media are savaging Harper and Ford in a way they have never done before — as one beast, and without fear or favour. Their adversaries are now poring through statutes, looking for laws to bring down men who once seemed invincible.

In Harper’s case, it was what he knew, and when, about his former chief of staff’s decision to slip $90,000 into the bank account of disgraced Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy. The rules do not permit gifts over $500 to senators, unless they are registered with the ethics officer — something Duffy did not do. If it was a gift, then it was against the Senate’s own conflict of interest code, since giving “a gift or other benefit” was also strictly prohibited. Given his reputation for micro-management, it’s hard to believe Harper’s claims he was unaware of the rule-breaking.

In Ford’s case, the facts are seamier. Reporters insist they have seen a tape of the mayor of North America’s fourth-largest city seemingly smoking crack cocaine. In the wake of that, there have been allegations about drug-peddling by Ford’s circle, and even his brother; dark mutterings about a murder of a young man who was connected to the alleged video; resignations and/or firings of his most senior aides; and — most ominously — reports late in the week raising concerns that records of former Ford staffers had been ordered destroyed, ostensibly to hide the truth. The city denied any records were ordered destroyed.

It isn’t the alleged crack-smoking or the gift-giving, ironically, that have the potential to derail Harper’s and Ford’s respective reigns. All that the pair needed to do was admit to mistakes earlier on, seek public forgiveness and describe steps to prevent reoccurrence. Instead, the two Conservative fishing buddies have been in weeks-long downward spirals of denial and, now, seeming cover-up. If the reports are true, Ford is at risk of being accused of obstruction of justice, as Nixon was, and Harper, apparent abuse of power and contempt of Parliament. Like Nixon.

To partisan Conservatives, the similarities to Watergate may seem a stretch.

But, at the start, Nixon probably thought he was untouchable, too.


  1. billg says:

    Ya, its a big stretch considering the money lent was used to pay back tax payers, was paid for with a personal very traceable cheque.
    But, having said all that partisan crap, I think all of this was predictable.
    Stephen Harper has been a horrible PM to the media, Im not sure how he thought at some time it wasnt going to come back and bite him. Like it or not, play and use the media or become its roadkill.

  2. rumleyfips says:


    Duffy actually got $180k+ as his reward for bad behaviour.

    Canadian taxpayers , throught the Senate, overpaid $90+k after Duffy submitted inappropriate expence claims. According to Nigel, Duffy( doing a great impersonation of a drunken sailor) spent it all and more. This spring, he said, Mike was broke. What wasn’t said was that the PMO was allowing Duffy to keep the loot.

    The second payment was a $90+k cheque over Wright’s signature. Both Duffy and the PMO thought that this was a ” get out of jail free card). Didn’t work out for them I guess. It stretches credulity to imagine that somewhere under some table , the $90+k won’t be refunded to ol Nige.

    There it is . Two separate $90,000 brown bags for ripping us off. Trebles all round.

  3. Arnold Murphy says:

    I think what they all missed was that their own legislation might in fact be their undoing, and trying to involve their subordinates in a cover-up Warren? Would that be deemed an offence that they would benefit from? And would it be one that they have three or more people involved in? Would the three or more people be identifiable as a group or do they usually represent themselves as a group? If so does that group normally take their direction from a senior member and who would that member be?

  4. bza says:

    That is a great analysis of the situation. In a crisis what is really remembered is how the crisis was responded to instead of what actually the crisis is. Think the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how terrible they responded when compared to Maple Leaf Foods Listeriosis outbreak where they apologized immediately and it was sincere.

    Whole books have been written about crisis communication, I’m sure there will be future chapters and books just about this saga to come.

    Harper and Ford should have looked to how Ralph Klein handled his own personal crisis when he had a drunken tirade against homeless people. He immediately sincerely apologized and got help.

    I despised his politics but people forgave him because of how he handled the situation. People can smell when politicians aren’t being honest or genuine. Harper and Ford could have handled the situation much better than they have and as a result let the crisis continue to deepen.

  5. G. Mcrae says:

    Has all the money from the Sponsorship Scandal ever been repaid?

    • Tired of it All says:

      In a word, yes. If you read Gomery, and I’m sure you have, you’ll well know that the $14M Guité gave to his cronies was recouped in fines levied in accordance with the sentences. Also keep in mind the program was $250M dollars over 10 years.

      Has Tony Clement given back the $50M he took from Border Security funding to build gazebos in his riding?

    • !o! says:

      really? still?

      They’ve got to update your talking points. Maybe it hasn’t worked through the system yet, but to the average reader, that sounds desperate and obsessive, and plays right into the narrative that you’re trying to defuse.

      But what the hell do I know eh? I’m just a random comment on the internets.

    • Jon Adams says:

      I dunno; has John A MacDonald paid back all the money from the Pacific Scandal yet?

      • deb s says:

        lol…nope, we still owe scotland the railroad money and I bet their plan is to come after canada when Europe finally bankrupt…and boy with interest charges were going to be in trouble:)

    • Kev says:

      When will Harper Government of Harper repay all the money spent on Economic Action Propaganda? or on re-branding what used to be the Government of Canada as Harper Government?

  6. WalterW says:

    “Given his reputation for micro-management, it’s hard to believe Harper’s claims he was unaware of the rule-breaking.”

    Only asses “assume”… and what you “believe” is somewhat biased given your political situation.

    As for those “reporters” who claim they “saw” the video, they are both Star employees. Nuff said.

    Trying to smear PM Harper with your dubious allegations is futile because come the 2015 election Canadians at large will not vote for another PM from corrupt and separatist Quebec.

    So, you got “nothing”.

    • Kaspar Juul says:

      WalterW. How’s Jesse Pinkman?

    • Michael Bussiere says:

      How exactly is Quebec separatist? With a PQ minority government at 29% in the polls. Oh, sorry, flagrant hateful bigotry is irrational. Sorry again. Signed, a bilingual individual of Syrian descent. Seethe over that one for a while, Walter.

      • J.A. says:

        M. Bussiere is correct. Quebec people are not “separatists” in general, although a few do play with the idea. as a Quebecoise who relocated to midwestern Canada, I have been very dismayed by the people who hate Quebec as a knee-jerk reflex.
        Warren’s article is brilliant in my view.

  7. rumleyfips says:


    You are wrong. The story about Rob Fords cameo in a crack smoking video was broken by the Gawker, not the Star. Star reporters had also seen the video and the Star had to run after the story broke.

    Being an ass, I assume you are equally innaccurate in all your comments.

  8. deb s says:

    I like the piece, very interesting parallels.
    I think the biggest difference of the nixon era and today in canada ( the states still seem to be outraged by wrongdoing depending on who is doing the wrongs)…

    anyhow the biggest difference is what the public feels about the scandals…toronto seems to have captured alot more attn. However there seems to be no rush to get proceedings going to rid the system of the corruption or the players. I think its very telling how much power the citizenry have lost. I also think the apathy allows this to continue.

    Both leaders Harper and Ford are shameless, both seem to feel that they can allow time to cover this up further and both seem incapable of recognizing how they have become corrupt with misusing their power. Harper calls the scandals distractions…and blames the opposition. Ford, lol, he blames the star.
    What a pair they are, they both need psychological intervention:P

  9. rumleyfips says:

    I was, of course, refering to myself as an ass. I assume Walt you got that.

  10. GPAlta says:

    Harper must be worried to pay the trolls to work on a Sunday

  11. e.a.f. says:

    Yes Ford and Harper are in a bit of pickle but don’t expect Watergate type endings. Harper has a majority government. His caucus will not desert him even if they want to. He can call an election, and they could all be out of jobs. Who would actually conduct an investigation into the Duffy/Harper who knew what, when fisasco? Why the RCMP. Not a group many have trust in. They report to the government and in the not so recent past, they too have had problems which aren’t going anywhere. As long as the RCMP is investigating the whole Duffy/Harper mess nothing will happen to derail Harper’s train. We will all have to wait until the next federal election.

    As to Ford, as long as he keeps his mouth shut and he is doing a good job of it and there is no evidence to warrant an arrest, he also will continue in his job at least until the next civic election. There maybe a video but there is no proof it is an accurate reflection of what occurred, nor is there any evidence it was Ford. This too will pass.

    Canada is in the grip of some messy stuff. The word corruption springs to mind but short of the Conservative party growing a set, nothing is going to happen. The Ontario Police may decide to investigate Rob Ford, but I’m not holding my breath.

    We only have to look at what happened in B.C. The provincial lieberals had more scandals than you could count, but they were re-elected with a majority.

  12. Olmanhall says:

    Good Conservatives. Piecework at minimum wage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.