I’ve never met Nigel Wright, and all I know of him is what I’ve read. But after consuming the 80-page, minutely detailed RCMP document released Wednesday, I have to say I sympathize with the guy. He comes across in the document just as his defenders have described him: capable, dedicated, “a person of good faith, of competence, with high ethical standards,” as Jason Kenney put it. You get the impression of a man who found himself in a rat’s nest, and tried to keep one of the rats from destroying himself. Instead, he got destroyed too.
That’s not the sentiment you’re supposed to have towards Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff. You’re supposed to denounce him as the Machiavellian hand behind the dark and devious manipulations that helped bring a corrupt Senate to public disgrace. His great sin, personally paying off $90,000 in expense claims made by Mike Duffy, was a monumental mistake. But you can understand how he got there after months of maddening efforts to achieve what must have seemed a simple quest: getting Duffy to repay the $90,000 he’d claimed in inappropriate housing and other expenses.
From the start, Wright doesn’t think Duffy has broken any laws. The Senate rules on “primary” residence are such that Duffy may be able to justify a claim that, legally, he’s done nothing wrong. “I…believe that Mike was doing what people told him he should do, without thinking about it too much,” he relates in one message. But Wright is convinced it’s a clear ethical breach and Duffy is morally bound to repay the money. It’s getting the senator to admit as much that causes the headaches.
In an interview with RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton, who headed the investigation and prepared the exhaustive outline, Wright reveals that since joining the Prime Minister’s Office he hasn’t filed a single expense claim, paying all his flights, hotels, meals and other costs from his own pocket. It has already cost him tens of thousands of dollars, but, thanks to his corporate career, he can afford it, and, Horton writes, “it is his global view and contribution to public policy that taxpayers not bear the cost of his position if he can legitimately afford to fund it himself.” He gives the same reason for his fatal decision to write a cheque to cover Duffy’s expenses, after concluding Duffy legitimately didn’t have the money: “He did not view it as something out of the norm for him to do, and was part of being a good person. He said it was a personal decision, and he did not want a lot of people to know about it.”
Fascinating read. You have a sympathetic figure in Nigel Wright, the devious and self serving Mike Duffy and then the rather incompetent Senate. No wonder why Harper wants is abolished. They can’t even execute a scandal right.