Resign, Stephen Harper. Resign

October 29, 2013 | By | Reply More
stephen harper

Beacon columnist Bruce Stewart says Prime Minister Stephen Harper should do the right thing and resign.

Stephen Harper should be held accountable for appointments and PMO

Prime Minister Stephen Harper should resign. Canadian political and parliamentary tradition demands that he resign. But will he?

There are many in the Conservative Party of Canada who believe the Senate scandal will blow over. Once the “wrongdoers” are punished — for them, that means Senators Duffy in particular, and Brazeau and Wallin if possible, are suspended without pay — they think the whole issue will go away.

I’ve heard Conservatives say “well, we don’t like the Senate anyway — I was Triple-E, but now it might as well just be abolished,” as though Prime Minister’s having to make appointments was behind the whole thing.

stephen harper

Senator Mike Duffy. Photo: Handout.

Funny, I’ve heard this script before, about a decade ago, when it was “well, perhaps a few people were overly zealous about national unity, move along, nothing to see here.” That ended with the Gomery Commission, and brought the Conservatives to power.

That fresh-faced new government’s first act, you may remember, was the Federal Accountability Act. But the MPs’ and Senators’ oaths of office, taken when first admitted to the House or Senate, were sufficient.

Just as American legislators and leaders take oaths to the American Constitution, Canadian Parliamentarians take an oath to serve the Queen. That’s the language of a Parliamentary monarchy to uphold the letter and spirit of the law, to preserve the country’s traditions and institutions, and to be responsible and accountable to them for the actions of your officials.

This isn’t about “beating on Harper means letting Duffy off the hook,” as one passionate Albertan put it to me yesterday. Both are oath-breakers. Both deserve their fates.

The problem with the motion being forced in the Senate to suspend Senators without pay isn’t that somehow the perpetrators of repeated expense account-driven pocket-lining will “get away with it” if it doesn’t happen. It’s that due process isn’t being followed. It’s that it’s being treated as a whipped vote on party lines.

mike duffy

Pamela Wallin of the Canadian Senate. Photo: CBC.

Should Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, (Mac Harb already resigned), and the others in that chamber we haven’t glommed onto yet remain Senators? If they took their oaths seriously, they’d have resigned ages ago — in fact, they’d have never played expense games in the first place.

But they didn’t treat their oaths seriously. Neither has the Prime Minister.

Stephen Harper is responsible for the actions of his officials. That means that when people in his Prime Minister’s Office arrange for his political party to write a cheque (as, in the amount of some $13,000, was done for Senator Duffy) to hide the expense fiddles, Stephen Harper is responsible to the House for it. When Nigel Wright whipped out his chequebook (whether he was reimbursed from party funds or not, no one yet can say), Stephen Harper was responsible for that act. When the PMO has given talking points to the principals involved in this situation, Stephen Harper is responsible for that.

stephen Harper

Patrick Brazeau of the Canadian Senate.

Responsibility is a Canadian invention: upholding our traditions and institutions in this case means more, even, than in any other Westminster-style Parliamentary system, because this is our contribution to democracy. It is that “the Minister is responsible to Parliament for the actions of his (or her) officials”.

When they act inappropriately, it’s a failure of management, with the responsible Minister of the Crown as the manager. The traditional response to that is to offer one’s resignation to the Prime Minister.

When it’s the Prime Minister, the resignation is offered to the country, by stepping down.

If Jean Chrétien had done that in January 2002, instead of packing Alfonso Gagliano off to be Ambassador to Denmark and going into “stall, obfuscate, deny” mode, the Liberal Party of Canada would likely not have been destroyed by the sponsorship scandal.

Stephen Harper claims to want to change the political culture of Canada, so that it is naturally conservative. Chrétien figured that he could deny his oath of office because he was indispensable. Harper, so far, has been acting the same way.

Resign, Mr. Prime Minister. Take responsibility for the actions of your officials, as you ought to. Uphold this country’s traditions and institutions, instead of trying to bend them to your will. Be accountable.

If Stephen Harper goes now, his party has a fighting chance to come back from this. If he stays, playing the “it’ll blow over” game, the Conservative Party of Canada will lose government — and the chance at it — for at least a decade.

Conservatives: do you stand up for Canada — or for Stephen Harper? For they’re not the same thing, not now.

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Category: Politics

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