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Public pressure necessary for PM to act responsibly

Photo Illustration by Tina Wallace

The implications of the current senate scandal go beyond the legal technicalities of whether claimed expenses were proper, or if particular cheques were sent. The scandal exposes recurring issues of the current government.

As time passes on and bigger problems plague our daily lives, we have a tendency to forget the government’s mistakes. Scandals get buried, questions are deflected, and next thing you know, the same government that was found to have wilfully violated the $18.3-million election spending limit during the 2006 election, who fired federally employed scientists for stating their professional concerns, froze foreign aid, and cut billions in scientific research funding, was elected into a majority government.

This broader context of unacceptable behaviour is precisely why the senate scandal matters. This is not an isolated, inaccessible political event that should only concern experts. We should all be concerned with what is happening to our government.

For those less versed in the technicalities of the scandal, it involves two conservative senators appointed by the prime minister who were accused of having improperly claimed living expenses for residences in provinces they didn’t even live in. The situation also involves a cheque written by the prime minister’s chief of staff Nigel Wright to one of the accused senators, Mike Duffy, to help him repay the improper expenses. Duffy is the same senator who recently stood up in the Senate and accused the prime minister of extortion, declaring the leader forced him to repay the expenses for the sake of public perception because only a few months prior, his office had approved them. On Oct. 28, Duffy produced two cheques from members of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and an email from Wright, which might just prove the veracity of his story.

This scandal justifies many of the previous Tory government’s critics. Harper often refuses to answer questions from the media, and when he is called upon to answer questions in Parliament, he tends to deflect them to his parliamentary secretary. When Harper does answer questions, he doesn’t answer them consistently or directly.

The public has not been offered a solid story from the prime minister regarding his involvement in the matter. Did he know about the backroom deal between Wright and Duffy? Did Wright resign of his own accord or was he fired? The public deserves a consistent and honest answer.

At the end of the day, it’s not just the scandal we should be paying attention to. We need to observe our prime minister’s response to it because it is an indicator of our country’s leadership. Not only does his response display a lack of integrity, but more importantly, by deflecting the blame onto a different politician every day, he’s also displaying an inability to take responsibility.

Harper is responsible for the PMO and this means he should not only bask in the office’s successes, but also be made accountable for its mistakes. The only way to do that is to keep asking questions. As long as we remain quiet and apathetic, we allow our leader to remain unaccountable. So, let’s keep talking.