Canadian PM Steven Harper mercilessly grilled over corruption in his office, senate, government and party

If you're outside of Canada, you might not have heard about the expenses scandal rocking the government. A Conservative senator with a reputation as a killer Party fundraiser named Mike Duffy, appointed by the Prime Minister, was caught claiming $90,000 in fraudulent expenses from the government. Before the auditor could conclude a probe into Duffy's actions, Duffy repaid the sum and took the position that he was no longer obliged to cooperate with the audit. Then it emerged that the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had written a personal cheque for $90,000 to Duffy, allowing him to escape the probe and to continue to support PM Harper's policies in the Senate.

Now comes this: a grilling of the PM by the leader of the opposition, the NDP's Thomas Mulcair. It's a textbook example of how the opposition should call the government to question. As Joey DeVilla puts it:

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair did an excellent job grilling the Prime Minister by dealing with him as one would deal with a petulant adolescent who’s been caught lifting the scotch from the liquor cabinet: ask short, simple questions, and if the answers aren’t satisfactory, ask again. The video below shows the outcome: Mulcair does a killer job as our weaselly Prime Minister dodges, weaves, misdirects, and like that petulant adolescent, wishes he could tell Mommy and Daddy to “eff off”, but for all his vainglorious claims to being the boss of himself, can’t.

In Which Thomas Mulcair Takes the Prime Minister Behind the Shed for a Much-Needed Spanking


      1.  Glenn Mulcaire (as Cory first said) was a private investigator who was involved in phone hacking for the News Of The World here in the UK. Can’t blame Cory for the slipup, given how much that name was plastered across headlines here last year.

  1. Parliament is such a farce. I didn’t realise Canada’s was so similar to ours (UK) in tone; a room full of elderly people, all probably drunk (or on crack, apparently) clapping and bashing their fists on tables; making agreement and disagreement noises like monkeys.

    I find that troublesome.

    1. I’m pretty sure crack is for the ghetto of municipal politics.  MPs are high-class – it’s powder at those lofty heights.

      1. Powder?  I like my coke forest-fresh & sticky,  and still smelling of petrol. Mind you, I’ve got higher standards than most politicos, judging by the evidence…

      2.  You might be on to something with municipal politics and crack – ask Rob Ford

    2. If I remember correctly Canadian MPs aren’t allowed to bang tables because it shakes the cameras.

    3. Don’t be too hard on your lot.  While the UK’s government is known as “The Mother of Parliaments” Canada’s is known as “The Child of Parliaments” due to its many unique features.  For example, every vote is a Confidence Vote on which the government can fall.  The government fails to get rid of the anchovies on the pizzas in the Parliament Cafeteria?  National Election!  For another, if the current session of parliament annoys the PM he can just send a text message to the Governor General and have the session canned.  The Governor General being the Supreme Authority ruling in the Queen’s name.  Also a political appointee appointed by the current government.

      1. That’s not correct. “Money” bills – such as budgets – are confidence votes in the Canadian parliament, but not bills are.

        1. I suspect Nadreck was poking at the Harper Conservative’s propensity for making anything they want passed a confidence vote (as can be done at the government’s discretion.)

          The Tories did this frequently when they only had a minority government to force the opposition to get on side with them or risk triggering an election over something that the people would consider “trivial.”

        2. In addition, any bill the government declares to be a confidence bill, is a confidence bill.

          This was how Harper got legislation passed when he had a minority – he knew at least one opposition party could be intimidated out of forcing an election, so when the PM wanted anchovies, he got anchovies by threat of shutting down the whole country’s government for the next few months.

    4. True, but at least in PMQs Cameron will typically answer the questions that are asked. This example, with Harper actually answering questions, seems to be pretty rare. The MO of the Harper government has typically been for a party spokesperson (Baird, Polievre, Van Loan, Kenney) to spout the talking point of the day in response to direct questions.

  2. I love the subtle passive-aggression of language at play here.

    Thomas Mulcair, a longtime resident of Quebec, speaks French natively. Whereas Stephen Harper had to learn it later in life, and although he speaks it well, it comes with more difficulty. There’s an argument to be made that the switching back and forth of languages (from English to French) is regular in Parliament, and a way to show French-speaking constituents that their native tongue is very much relevant in the governing of Canada. That said, Mulcair seems to reserve asking a question in French until the Prime Minister is playing hardball with his answers. The Prime Minister then is obligated to answer in French, which is more difficult for him.

    1. yes, so?

      Mulcair was brilliant yesterday. Harper never looked at him once. He looked totally shocked by the chirurgical questionning by Mulcair.

      This is a huge scandal happening here. We might get rid of the tories in 1015 after all!!!

      1.  Optimistic and I hope you are right, but people have short memories.  Once this goes before the courts you can be sure Harper’s minions will bog it down until well past 2015.

  3. There is no way in hell that PM would not know about what chief of staff is doing.
    Also, why do we appoint Senators in Canada instead of electing them?

    1. Eh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Canada.  Senators aren’t any better in countries where they are elected.  They are just more pretentious, i.e. “We are elected by the people, therefore behave badly at their bidding.”

    2. I suspect there are quite rigorous protocols in place to maintain the PM’s ignorance of certain actions of his chief of staff and other trusted officers, so he can honestly deny knowledge of them.  The PMO’s chief of staff is a civil service position, so its occupant can be given a golden handshake and replaced as required, without costing the party a seat in Parliament.

      It would probably make sense for individual ministers to have similar arrangements with their deputy ministers, to keep the knowledge of, and blame for, certain actions, firmly within the civil service.

      Incidentally, I think the mechanism for electing Senators would have to be designed extremely carefully to preserve any semblance of capacity for sober second thought in the upper chamber.  Yes, what we have now is flawed, but the first 20 or so most obvious ways of designing Senate elections would probably make it worse not better.

    3. Electing senators was a platform of that Reform (the party from which steven Harper hails) had in place as a rallying cry in opposition- it is just a lousy idea when you are in power and get to stack it with your own appointments.

    4.  Because senators are supposed to be statesmen. In the US, because of the more populist tone of statewide races versus districtwide, senators behave more contempitbly than congressmen.

    5. The Senate in Canada is mostly honorific and doesn’t  do much but  still costs us 100 millions every fucking year . There’s a large  concensus in the country to abolish it. But that means opening the Constitution. And that would open an even bigger can of worms than having a useless and expensive senate. So it won’t happen.

      1.  This.  Nobody in that government jumps without him telling them when, how high and when to stop.  NO WAY did Wright pass $90K to a Senator without Harper’s nod.  Not a chance in hell.

    6. I’ve got an idea for how to appoint Senators without it being just political favours from the party in charge at the moment. Treat it like jury duty. The point of the Senate (as I understand it) is to be oversight for the House of Commons. So put in random citizens. Yes, you might get crazy fuckers or complete shitheads, but we get that now anyway.

    7. Don’t get too excited about popular election of Senators.  We in the States originally had Senators appointed by statehouses.  With the passage of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, we went to popular election.  The reasoning was that the state legislators appointing Senators were being bought off to select particular candidates.

      All the Amendment’s passage really did was make the buying-off process a bit more circuitous.

  4. He’s a fun thought experiment. Imagine George W. Bush being grilled like this. Then imagine him having to respond in English and Spanish (He supposedly knows it.)

    I think we know how the petulant little prince would respond. And of course Fox News would cry about how mean the people questioning him are and how disrespectful they are to “the office of the President”

    1. You know what’s not fun? I can imagine this being done to the current President. And I can remember it happening to President Clinton. But it would be wrong to question Bush.

  5. sorry I wish I could see the video, but I a grey screen fuzz on the video link. And it is only happening on Boing, Boing’s site. is this comcast blocking or ??? Help, any body else? I want my Boing, Boing back. It has been doing this since Friday.

    1. No, i can no longer open the youtube videos either. Some sort of format change- irritating.

    2.  Some kind of funky ‘paused videotape’ blurry effect. It appears to b0rk quite a few devices

    3. The grey screen fuzz is a style element, which you can block with AdBlock.

      1. But what’s the argument for its existence? Is this just a campaign to promote Adblock? I see lots of complaints about it (including undue resource use and failed videos on some mobile devices), and no-one defends or explains it.

        Also, can you even use Adblock on all devices?

  6. What is up with all the clapping? Can somebody explain this to me? Seems extremely odd and awkward. 

    “Now if you’ll excuse me, i need to go take a leak” 
    *ovation, clapping, banter*

    1. It’s a theatrical thing. All of Question Period is. It’s actually a bit like a laugh track on a sitcom. The MPs clap and boo depending on their party affiliation and what is being said. So when Harper makes a completely bullshit remark, the NDP and Liberal MPs boo and hiss so that it’s clear to anyone watching that they are pointing out that they think he’s full of shit.

    1. yes, among other shitty scandals….

      But what has beeen happening the last 2 weeks… i think we finaly got him beaten in 2015

    2. As I recall, he knows absolutely nothing about that. And no one in his party does either. Amazingly, the entire operation was performed by a low-level staffer who has been thrown under the bus. What’s even more amazing is that low-level staffer claims he didn’t have access to the Conservative Party’s voter database, so he couldn’t have done it. Obviously he’s lying and either had access or is a dirty hacker who broke into it. The Conservatives don’t seem too worried about that possibility though.

  7. So, wait…if things get hairy for Harper can he just…shut down the government again?  That seems to have worked for him in the past, right?  

    1. it did last time…. but the difference now is that the average canadian – including his tory base – is really angry about this. Combined to what is happening in Toronto, the conservative brand  is suffering (YES!).

      So if he uses prorogration again this time, he’ll be digging his own grave with voters, who have been too willing in the past to close their eyes with his tendencies to cut corners with democracy. 

      This time, it’s different.

      1. Thanks; I only have a (far) outside perspective on it, so I have no idea what the “vibe” is of the electorate. I mean, I thought the LAST time he shut the thing down– prorogration, right, that is the word– everyone would freak out, but noooooope.

  8. Cory,  really? I don’t agree with all of the Harper Government’s positions, and as a mere permanent resident of Canada I am not eligible to vote, but I think you’re crying wolf here. A Senator padded his expense account (only five figures) and then a crony bailed him out. Now PM Harper is doing what every politician does- using uncomfortable questions as an opportunity to reinforce his own talking points. Is this taboo in Canada, like cutting in line (I’m new here)?

    1.  Or, you know, ‘committed fraud’. Mind you, the entire fucking parliament cheerfully did that here in the UK for, well, centuries, and basically got away with it scot-free when it came to light, so…

    2. You’re reading this situation wrong. Canadians are angry about this. Really. When you have the pro-conservative Andrew Coyne BLASTING Harper the last couple weeks,  you know the PM is in deep shit.

    3. I can’t see any upside to defending any of these shenanigans. Does the fact that everyone does it make it all right?

  9. This scandal the opposition is clinging to is so ridiculously small. All elected and non elected officials abuse their position to waste taxpayers’ money. Mike Duffy went too far, but this is not a unique or isolated case.

    I find the spending of our current and past Governors General of Canada far more outrageous. Michaëlle Jean wasted millions and used governement planes to travel privately with her family, which had nothing to do with her “job”.

    1. Harper promised to be Mister Clean before he got elected. He hammered the  Liberals on this. It’s his brand. This scandal is not  ridiculously small. It’s about the Prime Minister Office trying to buy itself out of a senate scandal regarding one of their favorite senator… who was nominated by Harper himself.. who was a big fundraiser for the tories… who is accused of biling his traveling expenses for fundraising to the senate… a senate which is dominated by tories and who gladly accepted the payback to smother the whole affair even if every ethics rule is broken.

      not small at all.

      Harper got elected with only 40% of the vote last time, after 2 minority govt when he got less. He gets elected because there’s 2 opposition parties fighting for the  60% of canadians who will never vote for him

    2. That’s a pretty poor tu quoque. Mike Duffy being only one example does not for a moment excuse Wright for bailing him out.

      The amount of money is less important than general contempt. Tthe Sponsorship Scandal was not much as far as government misspending goes – much worse has happened since without much attention – but became a symbol of it because it was so blatant.

      Likewise, the problem here is this government has complete disdain for auditors, which is reflected on a much larger scale. A good example is that of Kevin Page, budget watchdog who had to sue for a mandate, reported shortfalls of several billion dollars, and was let go immediately before receiving the data the court ordered.

      This tiny example is nothing beside that, but it seems it’s where the misconduct is most obvious. Fine by me; sometimes murderers get put away by tax evasion.

    3.  Harper and his cartel can’t breathe without a scandal oozing out or billions of dollars being wasted somehow.

      They’re an illigitimate government that’s been doing the opposite of everything they spend millions of dollars of taxpayer funds advertising that they do well. Whether you’re a Canadian that’s driven by morality or just the bottom line and the almighty dollar, everything is wrong with this government.

  10. I liked watching that so much I also watched my all-time favourite Jeremy Paxman vs Michael Howard (Paxman won on points).

    The public needs to hold politicians accountable not just for their action, but what they do or don’t say – particularly when presented with clear questions.

    No answer = hiding something.

    1. I’ve always liked the idea of displaying the question under the speaking person’s image, like a subtitle.
      Then it’s a lot harder for them to deflect the question by answering a different one.

  11. I bet Canadian MPs have to replace buttons on their suits quite often, with all that standing-up-sitting-down-standing-up business.

    Have to say though, this really is small-fry politics. I hope it’s true that it’s damaging the Tory brand in the colonies, but, in fairness, my experience is that cronyism is rarely punished at the polls, although it makes for good copy; what is punished is the inability to make voters overlook such cronyism. A gifted politician will say “yeah, we’re kinda corrupt here and there, but LOOK YOU CAN HAVE PONIES!” and people will listen, because he might be a dirtbag but that doesn’t mean he cannot deliver ponies, and after all, we already know how dirty he is, while we don’t know about the other guy – he could be worse!

  12. When I watch this, I like to pretend it’s the same group of people clapping no matter which point is brought up. As if it’s just a room filled with happy people.

  13. What is the purpose of filling the boxes of these videos with a horribly irritating static like effect?  Is this the new style?

  14. What’s with all the jacket buttoning? Every time a guy stands up he has to button his jacket. I suppose he must unbutton it every time he sits down. Must be exhausting. 

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