Appointments Process – Ethical Standards


Question Period: Appointments Process - Ethical Standards Senator Jane Cordy May 30th, 2013

Prime Minister's Office

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, Canadians are becoming more and more concerned by what they see as an ever-increasing number of questionable decisions by the Harper government.

This week in Panama, the police arrested Arthur Porter. He is behind bars. Barely two years earlier, Mr. Porter served as the Chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee at the Prime Minister's request. Canadians have seen criminal charges laid against Bruce Carson, the Prime Minister's former acting chief of staff, and now the resignation of his latest chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

In the National Post, the headline for this morning's column by Andrew Coyne was "Moral code of Tories in question." Mr. Coyne writes that the government, at its highest levels, is displaying what he called "a culture of expediency." He says:

It's the whole moral code of this government that's in question.

By all accounts, Nigel Wright is an accomplished and widely admired individual. David Frum had this to say about him:

I've known Nigel Wright since the mid-1980s. I can think of nobody in politics in the U.S., U.K. and Canada whom I admire more.

I had never met Nigel Wright, but I had only heard positive things about the character of the gentleman. If an individual so highly regarded as Nigel Wright was not able to withstand the political culture of deception and expediency that is apparently so prevalent in the Prime Minister's Office, is this government considering revising its own ethical standards and improving how those standards are imparted to individuals working in its political offices?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, I obviously will not comment on the writings of Andrew Coyne. Those are his views. I do not necessarily share those views, which will not be of any surprise.

Going back to Dr. Porter, at the time of his appointment he was a highly regarded, highly sought-after, outstanding citizen. Of course, he has long since left the position that he held. The events that he now finds himself involved in have absolutely no relation to the position that he held in the past and which he, of course, has left.

With regard to the various other cases the honourable senator raises, I could cite — but I will not because I will not get into this at the moment — many people in other political regimes who have found themselves in difficulty. These are for the courts to decide.

With regard to Mr. Nigel Wright, I, like David Frum, have known Nigel Wright since the mid-1980s. I know him to be an outstanding, intelligent human being and also a very caring human being. If you were to familiarize yourself with the extensive work he does for good causes and the money he gives to charity, he is an outstanding individual.

The fact of the matter is that this happens to be what happened. I know you do not like the answer, but Nigel Wright on his own made the decision to assist Senator Duffy in Senator Duffy's efforts to repay the taxpayer. He clearly made a mistake. He has said he made a mistake. He has said he will fully cooperate with anyone who is involved in looking into this, including the Ethics Commissioner. Because he is such an outstanding individual, I have no doubt that Nigel Wright will be fully forthcoming when he meets with the people who are looking into this matter.

The fact is that this was a decision he made. As I have said publicly, I have been in situations, and it is interesting that people from the other side who have worked for Liberal prime ministers have said the same thing. They can understand how it happened. Of course, they do not think he should have done this. That is the obvious point, but they can understand how it happened. It was a mistake, he said it was a mistake, and that is what happened.

Nigel Wright, being the outstanding person that he is — and he is a very outstanding and ethical person — I am quite sure when the authorities, whoever they are, make inquiries of Mr. Wright, that he will be fully forthcoming and completely honest.

Senator Cordy: These examples that we are seeing over and over and over again certainly go directly to the Prime Minister's judgment in selecting people for positions.

This week, I am sure all of us have been getting hundreds and hundreds of emails. Someone emailed me and quoted Sir Walter Scott, who said, "O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

It seems that over and over and over again the Harper government denies, minimizes and then attacks, whether it is the Liberals and the NDP in the House of Commons or the Liberals and the independents on this side of Parliament.

When will the Harper government change its attitude and become more open and transparent? When issues arise, instead of denying and minimizing them, when are they going to start acting immediately? Senator LeBreton: Senator Cordy, first of all, the Prime Minister did not deny; he told the truth. I know the truth is hard for you to accept, but that happens to be the truth.

Now, you do not want me, I am sure, to get into a debate with you about ethics when we have a prime minister selling his golf course on the back of an envelope or interfering with the Business Development Bank; and out of the Prime Minister's Office the sponsorship scheme was run, and we are still looking for the missing $40 million.