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.
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.