Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tangled web still in knots

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The tangled web weaved by Messrs. Harper, Wright, Duffy et al is far from over, despite the fact RCMP said they found no evidence to support criminal charges against Nigel Wright.

The fact there was no proof of criminal conduct does not mean there was no wrongdoing. It does not even mean there was nothing criminal, but the prime minister's former chief of staff is entitled at this point to be judged as cleared of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.

There is still an array of troubling questions, however, about what Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew and when he knew it. Canadians are still completely baffled as to why Mr. Wright used $90,000 of his own money to help Sen. Mike Duffy pay back money he owed taxpayers over improper living expenses.

The apparent answer was Mr. Duffy, a loyal and effective Conservative operative, said he was broke (what a good friend he had in Mr. Wright), but that isn't a very satisfying answer, particularly since it was done in secret and allegedly behind the back of the prime minister.

For his part, Mr. Duffy described it as a bank loan, but later said his arm was twisted to accept Mr. Wright's largesse in return for... well, apparently for admitting he made a mistake in claiming living expenses for his residence in P.E.I., even though he lived in Ottawa.

It's not known how candid and open Mr. Wright was during the RCMP investigation, but now would be a good time for him to talk to Canadians.

Of course, he may be holding his tongue because the criminal investigation is not yet over. Indeed, there is still an ethics investigation to conduct into the whole affair and possibly a criminal probe into Mr. Duffy, including the question of whether his acceptance of Mr. Wright's gift constituted a breach under the Parliament of Canada Act, which requires the disclosure of gifts.

It could be months, if not years, before ethics commissioner Mary Dawson is able to slice through the claims, counter-claims and outright obfuscation that will emerge as she tries to elicit the straight goods from the prime minister's office, Mr. Harper himself, Mr. Duffy, a few Conservative senators who played a role in the matter and possibly other persons yet to be known or identified.

RCMP decided they had no need to talk to Mr. Harper to discern the truth, but Ms. Dawson will want to interview the prime minister, who hopefully will co-operate.

Mr. Wright needs to explain if the $90,000 payment plan was intended to prevent the Conservative caucus in the Senate from tossing Mr. Duffy out of the Senate, a move that would have embarrassed the government. And was there a plan for Mr. Wright to be reimbursed in the future from the Conservative Fund?

Several staff in the PMO were involved in planning and executing the $90,000 payment, yet they are all still working in government, a fact that has still not been explained by the government.

Mr. Wright still hasn't explained if he believes it was ethical to use his own cash as a means of helping Sen. Duffy hold onto his Senate seat in P.E.I., even though he does not appear to have been qualified to represent that province?

As a separate matter, it is not very reassuring the criminal investigation was conducted by the RCMP, the very force that guards the prime minister and whose chief commissioner is appointed by the PM. The Ottawa police service, which owes nothing to the prime minister, would have been a more suitable investigator.

The web may never be fully untangled, but hopefully it will be a lesson to others who practise to deceive.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2014 A16

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