04.01.2015 01:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: scandals are boring, and Mike Duffy’s is no exception

In a week and a bit, the trial of Mike Duffy will commence. Official Ottawa will be agog, apoplectic and absorbed—via Twitter, via Facebook, via regular breathless and live televised reports, issued from just outside the battlefield, i.e., the Ontario Court of Justice, at the Ottawa Courthouse on Elgin Street.

The Rest of Canada—that is, Joe and Jane Frontporch, who live and work South of the Queensway—will not give a rat’s ass. They will not pay the Duffy-related doings any heed. They will not care.

They shouldn’t.

Now, now, a caveat: it is, of course, important that our public officials, elected or otherwise, do not dip their snouts into the treasury, like domesticated hogs extracting truffles in temperate forests. That is what is alleged in l’affaire Duffy, more or less.

According to the Mounties and the Crown, who investigated the case for what seemed like centuries—dutifully leaking details of the efforts to media outlets who parked their critical faculties elsewhere—the Senator from Cavendish-cum-Kanata allegedly broke the law no less than 31 times, Your Honour.

Among the allegations: bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The bribery one is my personal favourite because it’s going precisely nowhere. The RCMP has alleged a bribe took place, in a most bizarre fashion: that is, a bribe was sought (by one Mike Duffy) but not offered (by one Nigel Wright).

Every lawyer in the world has an eye trained on that one, because bribery takes two to tango, as it were. How can the erstwhile Senator be convicted of accepting a bribe, when one wasn’t ever offered? Watch for this charge to go down in proverbial flames—principally because (a) it can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and (b) everyone knows that Nigel Wright is one of the most decent fellows to ever set foot on Parliament Hill.

At this point in our dissertation, naturally, Joe and Jane Frontporch are falling asleep. This column has become a textbook case of Ottawa talking about Ottawa and there is nothing more boring than that.

So, too, scandal. While myriad controversies—always nouns, always with “gate” appended as a suffix—always transfix the commentariat, they always leave Mr. and Mrs. Frontporch cold. The Duffy “scandal” is no exception.

That is because scandal-mongering, like the Senate itself, is a thankless task (and taskless thanks). With perhaps the notable historic exception of the Watergate break-in, it doesn’t really work anymore.

There are three reasons why:

1. The media/political punditocracy refer to everything, pretty much, as a scandal.

2. Regrettably, if you were to ask Joe and Jane Frontporch—and someone really should, one of these days—they would tell you: they already believe that everyone who wields power in Ottawa/Washington/wherever is an unindicted co-conspirator, i.e., a crook. Ipso facto, news reports to the effect that a politician has allegedly committed theft, fraud, and breach of trust aren’t news at all. They are, instead, like weather reports: they happen every day, they are rarely good news, and there is nothing Joe and Jane can do about them.

3. Joe and Jane Frontporch have heard the hysteria and histrionics about “scandals” way, way too many times. Way. And, consequently, they now don’t believe any of it until the good Senator is led away in handcuffs and a fetching orange pantsuit.

In the real world, the real scandals are things like not having a job, and being unable to pay the bills. The real scandals are seeing your ailing parent curled up on a bed in a hospital corridor, waiting days to get seen by a doctor. The real scandals are governments spending untold billions on security—only to thereafter shrug when some deranged, lone wolf fanatic slips through their labyrinth of scanners and spies, and commit terrible crimes.

Those things, to Joe and Jane Frontporch, are the real scandals.

Not, to put a fine point on it, Mike Duffy. That, they feel, is just another sad case of Ottawa talking about Ottawa—and not the real scandals, in the real world.

19 Comments

  1. Bill says:

    “In the real world, the real scandals are things like not having a job, and being unable to pay the bills”

    Amen

    Just read this:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/economy-a-higher-priority-than-terrorism-for-canadian-voters-poll/article23728296/

    Since the dollar has fallen so precipitously , really crapping the bed since last September, but particularly since January, I haven’t heard a word from those who are best placed to deliver soaring rhetoric on it.

    Here in Montreal, when I walk into a grocery store these days, I immediately see the impact the falling loonie when looking at the fruit/veg/meat. And you’re right Warren, these are things that directly hit our pockets on a daily basis.

    The link between the tanking loonie and the sitting government of course is the falling price of oil. Now as much as I’d like to, I can’t blame Harper for the falling price of oil but I’d like to see the opposition hammer the government for failing to have a national vision when it comes to the economy….and link it to real example as I described in the grocery store. Those images stick, remember elder Bush not having a clue about bar code scanners?

    Long story short, the meme of Harper as a solid economic steward is a house of cards, essentially someone who bet the whole economy on oil.

    Given the above linked article, there’s much to find “scandalous” about this bunch if the clueless opposition can ever get its act together and stop letting Harper dictate the narrative.

    • cgh says:

      Well, no. The Canadian dollar started declining last June. And it did so on news of Canada’s growing trade deficit.
      http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=CAD&to=USD&view=1Y

      The Saudi announcement regarding oil production came in October.
      Note that the trend line was unchanged.

      When the dollar rose to over-par with the US dollar the principal reason was not the surging price of oil but huge amounts of capital fleeing the EU and buying Canadian government securities. Ever since that peak several years ago, these Canadian dollar positions have been slowly unwound. This, far more than the price of oil, is the real driver in the decline of the Canadian dollar against most currencies.

      You may claim that the government has no plan regarding Canada’s industrial economy. Neither does the opposition with respect to the real source of Canada’s currency decline. Their remedies of more deficit spending will only make matters worse, incurring more debt and increasing the fall of the dollar.

      As things are, the decline in the currency now has now more or less halted. It was a self-correcting problem, as a declining currency discourages imports and encourages exports. But until Canada addresses its anaemic productivity, growth will remain limited.

      • Bill says:

        The declines in the currency which you mention were miniscule compared to ensuing shitstorm that the fall in oil brought.

        “You may claim that the government has no plan regarding Canada’s industrial economy. Neither does the opposition with respect to the real source of Canada’s currency decline.”

        The opposition haven’t been the ones claiming the were AWESOMUS MAXIMUS economic stewards of the economy for the past five years.

        • cgh says:

          Bill, read my post and read the link. The delta of the downward curve on the Canadian dollar did not change significantly with the October price shock. It was declining before and it continued declining after at much the same rate.

          And yes, the decline in the dollar matters. Oil is only about 3% of Canada’s economy, but the dollar decline affects everything. Oil added to it, but it was not the key driver. Canada’s declining fundamentals of export-import balance were the key movers in this. Oil is priced in US dollars not Canadian dollars, so it was immune to the fall in value of the Canadian dollar, partly canceling out the negative effect of the dollar value decline.

          Much larger than oil was the general fall of ALL natural resource prices which has been going on for more than a year. Copper, gold, potash, nickel, iron ore, coal, they’ve all been declining. And the whole natural resource sector is much larger than just oil.

          “The opposition haven’t been the ones claiming the were AWESOMUS MAXIMUS economic stewards of the economy for the past five years.”

          That may be, but they have no answers either to a problem brought on by a global slowdown in demand for what Canada produces. They certainly haven’t put on the table anything that would correct the situation.

  2. BORK says:

    This SCANDAL is about yet another way the HarperCONS found a way to use the public purse for their election expenses.
    Duffy billed the Senate for campaign events that SHOULD have been re-imbursed by the the Conservative party. Everything else is smokescreen, designed to hide yet MORE HarperCON election fraud. Hopefully the trial will expose this.

  3. Africon says:

    Or worse HAVING a job, and being unable to pay the bills.

    It is pure unmitigated rubbish that every single Party in opposition has trotted out forever, that the Government of the day ( National or Provincial) has so much control over the economy. Every government that sold Canadian voters with “goodies” that they could not afford in order to get their votes has collectively put us here in this pickle ( and it’s the voter’s fault) where the real scandals of today could be easily remedied if the money we spend on interest payments on the National debt was available to be spent on a Healthcare system that worked or a school system that pumped out graduates that could reed and right or do maths without a calculator.

    With all of the fiat “money” that is being printed in the trillions around the globe, we are surely headed for the biggest financial crash in history and of course idiots everywhere will blame Harper or O’Bama or Angela Merkel, Xi Jingping or Abe or Cameron etc.
    Get your own house in order cus the “Government that brung you here” will not be there when you need help.

    • cgh says:

      Well, yes. The particular problem lies with the US Fed which has generated trillions in US securities to paper over their multi-trillion running deficit. Yes, this will all come home to roost when that money comes into circulation. The Canadian government has not done that, but some of the opposition positions sound like they would do the same thing to stimulate the Canadian economy. But from the sounds of things, the Eurozone may be about to follow suit this year. The unhappiness over austerity, ruinously high unemployment are having real and adverse political effects. The rise of far right national socialist parties in Europe is not an accident.

      This development in the 1990s was the beginning of the perversion of central banks. Their original mandate was supposed to be nothing more than defending the value of the national currency. That means only controlling the inflation rate. However, in the 1990s began the policy of also using the central bank as a source of national economic stimulus. Hence, the problems. And they’ve arisen because of the inability of the political systems to resolve national or regional economic problems, i.e. don’t raise taxes to pay for something, debt-finance it.

      It’s part of a larger, much more longstanding problem that all major global currencies have been engaged in devaluation policies for a long time. It started at least back in the Clinton administration of using low interest rates to devalue the currency and reduce balance of trade deficits. This simply started a tit-for-tat, particularly with the Eurozone. It’s no surprise that things like the Doha round of international trade talks failed so spectacularly. Agriculture subsides were blamed for the failure, but the real elephant in the room that no one addressed was the ongoing currency wars. Given how utterly tiny the total value of the Canadian dollar is compared to the large reserve currencies in the world, the US dollar, the Euro, the Yen, we are and can only be mere bystanders or victims. Just look at the agonies of Switzerland and its efforts to control the value of its franc over the past five years.

      You’re right about Canadian governments bribing voters with “goodies”, but in comparative terms we’re absolute pikers compared with most other OECD nations. And you’re also entirely correct about it being our fault. We the voters are the ones who allow ourselves to be bribed with our own money.

      • Paul Brennan says:

        cgh and Africon – you folks get it -all countries are going to get caught in a major major fallout from this mess.. its really odd though… I am a small fish but when I had to opportunity to talk to a couple of senior economists with CDN banks about this ..they have absolutely no idea ultimate impacts and more importantly seem to buy in to this “big turnaround “story in US….all the stats being bandied about by US gov do not jive with reality re : retail sales, job creation , consumer debt , housing and car loan bubbles …and the stock market ..yikes

  4. davie says:

    A fair number of front porch types could be thinking that trials of big shots don’t amount to much anyway.

  5. Maps Onburt says:

    Warren, you are on a roll! Another great column with good insight. (And this from a dyed in the wool Conservative). I warrant the same will hold true for the news last night about the 40 senators (mostly Liberal) that have been found to have been dipping too heavily into the government trough. Until people see them led away in handcuffs, nobody will notice (beyond the screaming politicos/pundits).

  6. debs says:

    well im watching on my front porch and for once I really want this scandal to affect harper, the libs had to suck up sponsorship, why shouldnt the cons have to answer for all their crap. I am not just talking about the senate, but just how he does business. Harper doesnt care about the rules, it shows in all his nasty interactions that do come to light. Thank goodness there was a anonymous whistleblower on this senate stuff, and yes libs and cons will be guilty but Harpers attempted cover up is the real crime, and for that I as a canadian citizen want him to answer for it.
    Lets hope Duffy is allowed to speak the truth and fry this govt.

  7. Elisabeth Lindsay says:

    Thank you Warren!

  8. Northern PoV says:

    ” everyone knows that Nigel Wright is one of the most decent fellows to ever set foot on Parliament Hill.”
    unadulterated spin
    Funny how this choir-boy likes to hang out with the bad guys.
    Maybe no RCMP charges but Mr. & Ms. Backporch judge people by the company they keep.

  9. e.a.f. says:

    May not live north or south of anything in Ontario but here in B.C. some of us are waiting and we do care about this trial.

  10. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    Senators have been led down the garden path. Trouble is, it was poisoned first and none of them noticed. Sand bagging — the new order of the day.

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