Harperland: The Politics of Control


in Books and literature, Canada, Economics, Law, Politics, The environment, Writing

Lawrence Martin’s 275-page account of the political life of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is useful reading for those who want to more fully understand how Canadian politics reached the arrangement it is now in, as well as those who wish to speculate more effectively about what the years ahead will involve. While Martin’s account is fairly hostile to Harper, the claims included within it are generally quite focused and backed by evidence. It is definitely written in the style of a journalist: opinionated, but with an awareness that everything will be fact checked. The book is packed with illuminating little details, from the way former Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion first arrived to work in Ottawa by bus to how the election-prompting decision to cut per-vote funding to political parties arrived was conveyed by unexpected BlackBerry message.

At times, Martin is sharply critical of Harper and the decisions of the Harper government. For instance, he objects strongly to the treatment of underage terrorist suspect Omar Khadr, the suppression of information on the torture of detainees in Afghanistan, as well as the fiscal record of the Conservative government. Martin argues that on many different policy files, the Harper government is driven by ideology and actively hostile to evidence. These include minimum sentences, drug policy, the long-form census, and others. The Harper government is also portrayed as obsessed with power for its own sake, rather than for the advancement of a well-articulated philosophy, as well as irrationally hostile to their political adversaries and those who disagree on policy grounds. In addition, the Harper government is portrayed as ignoring Canada’s constitutional conventions on matters like the supremacy of parliament, weakening government overall while strengthening the executive.

At many points, the book touches upon climate change and environmental topics. It probably won’t be too illuminating for people who have been following the file, but the details included strengthen the argument that the Harper government has largely seen climate change as a public relations problem to be managed, rather than a real-world issue of any importance to Canadians.

Written by someone who obviously has a great deal of personal experience with the various recent eras of Canadian politics, Harperland may be an especially worthwhile read for younger citizens who dimly remember the Chretien era that took place when they were children and who do not have any personal basis for comparing the recent Conservative governments to those earlier in Canadian history. The book also provides some personal details and character insights on Harper himself and those closely associated with him. It is interesting to read about how despair often precedes the re-emergence of resolution for him after a setback, or to have some examples of his documented vindictive streak provided. Matin quotes Charlie Angus in describing Harper’s “fundamental flaw” as “a mean streak, a level of viciousness that comes out”.

The book contains many references to the interactions between the political and bureaucratic sides of government, particularly on issues like access to information. There are also detailed accounts of the fates of various ministers and high-level advisors.

At times, Martin’s account is rather passionate – particularly concerning the near-emergence of a Liberal-NDP coalition. Particularly when describing this time period, the author seems to be shouting after-the-fact advice to journalists and the opposition. I haven’t been keeping track of his journalistic contributions elsewhere, so it is possible that he is simply re-asserting claims of his own that he feels have been vindicated by future events.

One thing that annoyed me a bit about the book is Martin’s habit of using ‘the West’ as a synonym for ‘Alberta’. It may look that way to someone who sees Ontario and Quebec as the centre of the political universe, but it looks awfully different from British Columbia.

Harperland does praise some successes of the Conservative government. In the ‘achievement log’ he places “the granting of nation status to the Quebecois, the apology to the Native peoples on residential schools, corporate tax reductions, the softwood lumber accord, and the Haitian earthquake rescue effort”. In the end, however, Martin’s verdict is fairly strongly negative:

As a strongman prime minister, [Harper] was beyond compare. He made previous alleged dictators like Jean Chretien look like welterweights. It was no small wonder that Canadians feared what he might do with a majority government. With that kind of power he could establish a hegemony the likes of which Canadians could not imagine.

Martin will have to provide an update in four years or so.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

oleh July 6, 2011 at 8:13 pm

This sounds like a very interesting book.

In June our book club read a book “Best Laid Plans” . It is quite a light read, but good. It is also about Ottawa. In particular it deals with the elections and politics in Ottawa. It won the Stephen Leacock Award as it is a humorous book. I can receommend it for political junkies who are looking for something light to read at the beach.

Tristan July 10, 2011 at 11:10 am

I studied/taught the Khadr case while TAing philosophy of law these past two years. Legally, Harper’s behaviour is disgusting and frightening – he’s acknowledged that the government acted illegally, but maintained the right of the executive to act illegally in matters of foreign affairs – exposing a space where Canada is not a democracy where power is checked by a rule of law, but an absolute monarchy where the word of the chief is above any written law.

However, morally, I see little difference between condoning the torture of Khadr and the support of states which use torture and administrative detention of children as a normal method of “counter-terrorism”. Canada’s unconditional support for Israeli imperialism in the occupied territories is the moral approval of the imprisonment, torture, and killing in the streets of children as young as twelve – sometimes younger.

. July 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm

‘Conservative values are Canadian values.” Thus spoke Stephen Harper in front of 900 hootin’ and hollerin’ supporters at the Calgary Stampede. The Liberal era is basically gone, he claimed, like “disco balls and bell bottoms.” The citizens of this great land have moved into the Tory temple and “Canada is more united than ever.” The Prime Minister was feeling his pancakes, you might say. His declarations got a lot of earthlings from the other side of the spectrum worked up. Safe to say that the 60 per cent of Canadians who didn’t vote Conservative didn’t like their values being described as such. Liberal interim leader Bob Rae was quick to pounce, trashing the Harper effusions as being divisive and reeking of triumphalist arrogance.

The aging Grit had a point of sorts. Wouldn’t Mr. Harper be better advised at this point in time to reach out to all camps rather than display his relentlessly partisan side? It’s that side that prevents him from ever being considered a statesman.

. July 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm

“In the case of the Prime Minister, it’s hard to avoid arrogance when you have just had your lifelong ambition realized. Mr. Harper’s ambition was to see the Liberals replaced by the Conservatives as the national party. This superseded any policy objective. In the election, with the brutal Liberal collapse, it happened.

That creates what might be called a nice problem for the Prime Minister. Having already achieved his principal political mission in life, what does he do now? The vanquishing of the Grits was supposed to take much longer. The Harper strategy, we recall, was one of incrementalism.”

. September 18, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Canada’s opposition

Harper and the void

The death of Jack Layton leaves the opposition leaderless. How the gap is filled may reshape Canadian politics

STATE funerals are a rare honour in Canada, usually restricted to former prime ministers, governors-general and prominent cabinet ministers. Yet on August 27th Jack Layton, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), who died of cancer on August 22nd at the age of 61, will be laid to rest in Toronto with all the pomp and solemn ceremony that official Canada can muster. The decision to offer a state funeral, made by Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, and accepted by the Layton family, is a tribute to Mr Layton’s personal appeal and to his achievement in re-drawing Canada’s political map. It is also an acknowledgment of the void he leaves behind.

At the federal election in May Mr Layton led the NDP, a perennial left-of-centre fringe party, to a triumph that in its way was more remarkable than Mr Harper’s winning of a parliamentary majority after five years as a minority prime minister. The NDP took 103 seats (up from 37) in the 308-seat House of Commons, becoming the official opposition and humiliating the Liberal Party and the separatist Bloc Québécois, whose leaders both resigned. So Mr Harper now bestrides Canada’s political stage, bereft of rivals. But it will be what the NDP does next that determines when, and above all how, Mr Harper’s dominance might end.

anonymous May 15, 2012 at 10:15 am

Canada’s ruling party is remarkably incompetent and only capable of staying in power because their opponents are weak (Liberals) and divided (left split between Libs, NDP, Bloc, and Greens).

If the Canadian public had a choice and there was a credible alternative, Harper would be out in a second. That’s why the Tories are obsessed with controlling the media, and so quick to punish anyone who disagrees with them.

. June 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm

The word “powerful” does not fit comfortably alongside “member of Parliament.” But May is right. All MPs are powerful. She is proof of what even the most disadvantaged MP can do — if they are not muzzled and leashed by a party leader.

But almost every MP is muzzled and leashed. They are told how to vote. They are told what to say. And most obey, because obedience is rewarded and independence punished. Even cabinet ministers have been reduced to ventriloquist’s dummies, mouthing words chosen by the prime minister’s office.

May finds it astonishing. “I worked for (Mulroney-era environment minister) Tom McMillan, who was a very red Tory. I wrote speeches for him. We never checked his speeches with the PMO. He’d get up to answer in Question Period. He didn’t have a script for how to answer. Brian Mulroney was not telling his cabinet members what to say, syllable by syllable,” she says. “I look at Peter Kent and I think my God man you had a great reputation. You were a great journalist. You won the Robert Kennedy Prize for journalism. And you’re going to stand up in the House and read the lines?”


anon July 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Harper asked Tory staffers for list of ‘enemy’ lobbyists, bureaucrats and reporters: documents


Harper’s government had previously distanced itself in 2012 from another internal strategy document, released through access to information legislation, that listed environmental and First Nations groups as “adversaries” and the National Energy Board – an independent regulator – as an “ally” in federal efforts to promote expansion in the oilsands sector, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

. August 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm

“Relying on an extremely small circle of advisers and his own instincts, he has played the game of high-stakes, partisan politics well, but his reputation for decisiveness and shrewdness has been tarnished by a sometimes vindictive pettiness,” says the cable dated Jan. 2, 2009.


anon August 21, 2013 at 9:11 pm


Summary: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reputation
as a master political strategist is somewhat tattered in the
wake of November’s stunning near-fatal mis-step to abolish
public financing for all political parties. However, at
least on the surface, he remains unbowed and unapologetic.
Relying on an extremely small circle of advisors and his own
instincts, he has played the game of high-stakes, partisan
politics well, but his reputation for decisiveness and
shrewdness has been tarnished by a sometimes vindictive
pettiness. With only a few exceptions, he has not built the
bridges to the opposition typical of a minority PM. Moving
from surpluses to deficits, he will face new imperatives in
the changed economic and political landscape of 2009 to adopt
a more conciliatory and inclusive approach. However, this
will go against the grain for such an instinctively combative
Prime Minister.

Blow to reputation

Canadians have had fifteen years to get to know
Stephen Harper as Reform Party MP (1993-1997), head of the
free enterprise National Citizens Coalition (1997-2001),
leader of the Canadian Alliance (2002- 2003), Conservative
opposition leader (2004-6), and Prime Minister
(2006-present), but he remains an enigma to most Canadians
(including many Conservatives). Supporters and detractors
alike have labeled him a master strategist and cunning
tactician, as well as an extremely partisan but paradoxically
pragmatic ideologue. He calls himself a realist. However,
his reputation as a peerless political chess-master is now
somewhat in tatters, following what most perceive as an
atypical near-fatal miscalculation over a Fall Economic and
Fiscal Statement (ref a) that lacked economic credibility and
proposed the elimination of per vote public subsidies for
political parties. Faced with an opposition revolt, Harper
first unusually retreated on the latter proposal, and then
bought time by proroguing Parliament on December 4 to avoid a
loss of a confidence vote on December 8.

Party first

As Conservative leader, Harper has pursued two key
objectives: welding the fractured Canadian conservative
movement into one cohesive Conservative Party of Canada
(CPC); and, positioning the CPC to replace the Liberals as
Canada’s “natural governing party.” He succeeded in the
first goal by imposing discipline and coherence, dangling the
prospect of a majority government, and centralizing power to
an unprecedented degree in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
He has made no secret of his desire to win a majority
government, or of his determination to occupy and redefine
the political center. As he recently told reporters, “if
you’re really serious about making transformation, you have
to pull the center of the political spectrum toward
conservatism . . . we’re building the country towards a
definition of itself that is more in line with conservatism.”
In a separate year-end interview, he underscored that his
goal since becoming leader has been to create a strong party
“that can not just win the odd election but can govern on an
ongoing basis.” Until now, that strategy has rested on
winning additional seats in Quebec, but the setbacks in the
province during the October election and Harper’s
denunciations of Quebec separatists during the early December
mini-crisis may necessitate a change in direction.

In 2007, former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan set
out his “Ten Commandments of Conservative Campaigning” that
read like a prescription for Harper’s governing style: party
unity; discipline; inclusion (reach out to ethnic
minorities); toughness; grassroots politics; persistence;
and, technology (fundraising and grassroots motivation). On
the policy side, moderation, “incrementalism,” and
communication. Conservatives, Flanagan noted, “must be
willing to make progress in small, practical steps . . .
sweeping visions . . . are toxic in practical politics.”
Moreover, with five parties on the field, he warned there was
little room for niceties; elections would “not be just street
fights, but all-out brawls.”

Governing the country, closely

In office, Harper has rarely made the compromises
typical of a minority PM, nor built the bridges and informal
channels that usually get things done in a minority
Parliament. In his first term, he practiced confrontation
over cooperation, governing in a kind of faux
majority-minority style that humiliated the already weakened
official opposition Liberals (a task made easier by the often
hapless performance of then-Opposition leader Stephane Dion).
He reached across the floor only twice: in March 2008 to
achieve bipartisan consensus on the extension of Canada’s
military mission in Afghanistan through 2011; and, in June
2008 to resolve the Indian Residential Schools issue. More
typical was his free use of confidence votes on a series of
legislation to force passage of his agenda under threat of an
election, and his fait accompli in 2006 recognizing the
Quebecois (i.e. not Quebec province) as a nation within a
united Canada, a step that took both his own party as well as
the opposition by surprise.

Tight focus on the leader and close-hold of
information have been the hallmarks of Harper’s governing
style. Initially, strict discipline and scripting made sense
for a new government on probation, whose members had almost
no experience in power. However, Harper has centralized
communications and decision-making within the PMO (an ongoing
trend since the 1970s) to an unprecedented degree, according
to commentators familiar with the public service and
Conservative insiders. “The Center” (PMO and Privy Council
Office) is clearly the arbiter of even the most routine

For their part, cabinet ministers have mostly kept
on message and in the prime minister’s shadow. Since July,
under new Chief of Staff Guy Giorno and communications
director Kory Teneycke, media access to ministers has been
loosened, but ministers are still on a short leash. At a
December conference, one Minister of State confessed
privately that he did not “dare” to deviate from his
pre-approved text, even though fast-moving events had already
overtaken his speech. Discussions with Conservative caucus
members over the past year have also made it clear that they
are often out of the loop on the Prime Minister’s plans,
including key committee chairmen in the House of Commons.
Many senior Conservatives admitted that they were stunned to
hear about the ban on public financing of political parties
in the Fall Economic Statement; neither the Cabinet nor the
caucus apparently had any clue this was even part of the
long-range agenda, much less subject to an immediate
confidence vote.

Inner, inner circle

Harper’s inner circle appears extremely small.
Notoriously hard on staff (Harper burned through a series of
communications directors as opposition leader, and once
reportedly told an aide that he liked to see the “fear” in
the eyes of prospective employees), Harper seems to operate
largely as his own strategist, tactician, and advisor. Often
described by observers as self-consciously the “smartest guy
in the room,” he has tended to surround himself with
like-minded people. As a result, some insiders say he lacks
staff willing or able to act as an effective sounding-board
or check his partisan instincts. Following the departure in
July of long-term advisor and chief of staff Ian Brodie and
communications director Sandra Buckler, their replacements
Giorno and Teneycke are known as highly partisan veterans of
two controversial majority Ontario provincial governments
that polarized public opinion.

In cabinet, pundits consider Environment Minister
Jim Prentice, Transport Minister John Baird, and Foreign
QJim Prentice, Transport Minister John Baird, and Foreign
Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to have Harper’s confidence.
However, few, if any, ministers appear to be genuine
confidantes. Unlike former Conservative PM Brian Mulroney,
who famously called his MPs when their kids were sick and
kept their loyalty even when his personal popularity plunged
to historic lows, Harper lacks the personal touch. He
appears to keep his caucus in line more through respect for
what he has accomplished and with the power and authority
that comes with the position of Prime Minister — and as the
party’s best hope for a future majority — than through
affection or loyalty. He has worked to quiet the party’s
socially conservative rank and file, and to marginalize
contentious issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion,
notably at the party’s November policy conference in
Winnipeg. He will next have to win their acquiescence to
upcoming deficit spending — anathema for western Canadian
conservatives — for a new stimulus package. Realistically,
however, they have no credible alternative to Harper or the
CPC at this point, which will help to keep the party base

Expect surprises

After almost three years in power and facing a
changing economic and political landscape for 2009 (ref b),
Harper’s new agenda is probably also still evolving. The
2008 Conservative election platform, the November policy
convention, and the 2008 Speech from the Throne provided few
insights, obliging Harper-watchers to parse his comments and
actions for clues about his future direction. Harper has
typically concentrated almost exclusively on short-term
election planning horizons, giving his government a sometimes
improvisational air. Some commitments (such as revisions to
the Anti-terrorism Act and new copyright legislation) have
languished, while others (notably his about-face on his
election pledge not to run a deficit, and his current
proposal to inject up to C$30 billion in fiscal stimulus in
FY 2009-2010) have been surprise reverses. Harper has also
not been bound by party orthodoxy. On December 22, he filled
the Senate with 18 unelected Conservatives and directly named
a Supreme Court justice, contradicting long-standing
commitments to an elected Senate and parliamentary review of
Supreme Court appointments (refs c and d).

According to one insider, Harper “likes surprises,”
not least to keep the opposition off balance. For the
opposition, Harper’s unpredictability has been more dangerous
due to his fierce partisanship and his willingness to take
risks. Harper and senior Conservatives prefaced the 40th
Parliament with calls for greater conciliation, a new “tone,”
and a common resolve to work together to tackle the economic
crisis. However, the government’s provocative Economic and
Fiscal Statement immediately revived the bitterness and
threat of an election that had hung over the parliament until
the prorogation. Opposition leaders claimed that the PM had
“poisoned the well” and broken their trust. As one national
columnist noted, the Statement “amounted to a declaration of

The opposition’s ability to turn the tables with a
proposed coalition in turn apparently caught the PM by
surprise, as was perhaps the rumored unwillingness of the
Governor General to rule out this option against his advice.
His ensuing passionate attacks on the “separatist” coalition
undid much of the progress the Conservative party had made in
Quebec. Harper was able to retake the initiative by seeking,
and gaining, a prorogation until January 26, but in year-end
media interviews he remained unapologetic. He denied that he
had acted like a “bully” in provoking the crisis, adding
“it’s our job . . . to put forward things we think are in the
public interest.”

In anticipation of the 2009 budget, PM Harper has
somewhat uncharacteristically reached out to the opposition
for input, opened channels to new Liberal leader Michael
Ignatieff, and appointed an eminent persons Economic Advisory
Group with some Liberal representation. He told CTV that his
plan is to focus on the economy and “find some consensus” in
Parliament, but he also made it clear that, if his political
rivals defeat him in January, he will have “no choice” but to
ask for an election: “if the decision of Parliament is that
they don’t support the government people elected, then I
think, the only — in my view — constitutionally,
politically, morally, the only reasonable thing to do at that
point is for some other government to get a mandate from the
Canadian people.”

In the changed economic and political landscape of
2009, PM Harper will face new imperatives to adopt a more
conciliatory and inclusive approach. However, this will go
against the grain for such an instinctively combative Prime

anon August 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm


As Santa Claus prepares to leave his North Pole
(Canada) base to deliver presents around the world (with
NORAD dutifully tracking his progress), Prime Minister
Stephen Harper may be offering up his own wistful wish list
for Christmas 2008, perhaps as follows:

— President Obama’s first phone call after the inauguration
is to PM Harper, with an invitation to visit the White House
ASAP to learn from Harper’s insights and experience;
— the North American recession turns out to have been a
“Dallas”-like dream sequence, and we all wake up to healthy,
expanding economies with solvent banks (based on the Canadian
regulatory model) and full employment;
— the 2009 Canadian budget passes the House of Commons
— Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams recants his
Venezuelan/Che Guevara economic theories and gives free
rights to Newfie water to AbitibiBowater in perpetuity,
leading Maude Barlow to emigrate to Zimbabwe;
— Quebec voters come to their senses, abandon the Bloc
Quebecois, and vote en masse for the Conservatives in the
next election, creating a stable Conservative majority in the
House of Commons;
— the three opposition parties in Parliament drop all
objections to an elected Senate, which all provinces then
rush to endorse as well;
— the Liberal Party national convention delegates in May
2009 unanimously pick discredited ex-leader Stephane Dion as
the party’s new permanent “Leader-for-Life;”
— scientists discover that Canada’s oil sands have a
positive effect on climate change and can be efficiently
extracted even at a world oil price of $10 per barrel;
— Russia abandons all claims to the Arctic and donates its
nuclear submarine that remains wedged between two ice floes
to the Canadian Navy, thereby doubling Canada’s blue-water
— millions of newly rich Chinese consumers develop a sudden
craze for Canadian-made SUVs and trucks;
— after successfully democratic Afghan elections in 2009,
the Taliban and al-Qaeda give up and “go home,” peace and
stability emerge throughout Afghanistan, and the Canadian
Forces and other ISAF troops depart in victory;
— Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” stop making fun of
Canada and Canadian politics.

anon August 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm
. August 1, 2015 at 10:40 pm

If, as essayist and editor B.K. Sandwell claimed, “Toronto has no social classes / only the Masseys and the masses,” the Masseys and their friends went to “Trins.” Bishop John Strachan founded the college in 1851 in bitter opposition to the Upper Canadian government, which had decided that King’s College, which Strachan had also founded, should be secular rather than Anglican. From that day onward, Trinity has fostered a reputation for exclusivity and exclusion. Small, cloistered, its architecture and mores a self-conscious imitation of Oxford or Cambridge, the college educated the sons and daughters of the elite, many of whom had already submitted their children to the academic excellence and social terrors of private boarding schools.

The rituals of the college were bizarre, but proudly held. They included “pouring out,” in which second-year students would forcibly eject from the dining hall any man of college who annoyed his neighbours at the table; “deportations,” in which second-year students would kidnap first-year students and leave them stranded, sometimes naked, in a park, at Centre Island, or even in another town; and Episkopon, in which the ghost of Bishop Strachan visited the men and women of the college to chastise them for their erring ways, through skits and songs composed by a committee that sought to push the boundaries of sexual – especially homophobic – humour

Some leaders like to micro-manage; others prefer to delegate. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. But Harper’s determination to grasp all of the levers, and even the widgets, of the federal government is matched by an equal determination to control the flow – or rather, the trickle – of information coming out of the government. Bureaucrats are prohibited from speaking to reporters. Scientists are prohibited from releasing the results of their research. Ambassadors have been ordered to obtain permission from the Centre before representing Canada in meetings. (The mantra from the PMO, as diplomats bitterly put it, is: Do nothing without instructions. Do not expect instructions.) Access to Information requests are routinely held up for so long that by the time the information is released, it’s no longer of any use, and the pages are mostly blacked out in any case.

And his encyclopedic memory includes not only the history of maritime border disputes, or who starred in what film; it also includes every act by every person who has slighted, offended, or betrayed him. Such acts are never forgotten and only rarely forgiven. Stephen Harper holds grudges.


. August 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Think of all the feats Mr. Harper has already attempted that have completely failed. Canada was going to be an energy superpower; remember that one? And it was going to achieve this unwelcome destiny while millions of Canadians were increasingly seeing greenhouse gases as an existential threat.

There was going to be an oil pipeline running under every bed in the nation, possibly lying cheek by jowl with a terrorist. Never mind the implacable opposition of environmentalists (not intimidated even when they were suddenly audited) or the determination of First Nations to exercise their sovereign rights. And who can forget the latest pipeline leak? They seem to be a daily occurrence.

Canada was going to celebrate new trade treaties that would supposedly make us prosperous and dynamic, especially huge agreements with Europe and Pacific nations. Neither is yet a done deal.

So, the record: No energy superpower, no new pipelines, no big trade treaties. Nothing worked.


. August 17, 2015 at 10:52 pm

“The government worked hard to woo Canadians using our own money. Taxes like the GST were cut, at a cost of billions that were needed for universal public programs and new infrastructure. Targeted tax credits were meticulously aimed at bribing politically ripe demographics. Are the latter grateful? Did the billion-dollar blitz of tax bribes, which happened to materialize just as the campaign was called, do the job? So far, the polls suggest a serious lack of appreciation for the government.”

. April 23, 2016 at 3:20 am

Aside from those occasional moments of avuncular finger-waggling, however, Vaillancourt made it clear that he found Duffy’s testimony to be credible.

He accepted, for the most part and with allowance for the occasional exaggeration, Duffy’s version of events, virtually in its entirety – not just when it came to his attempts to work within the vague and arbitrary rules that governed the Red Chamber, but also his account of his dealings with senior staff operating out of Harper’s office.

“The email traffic that has been produced at this trial causes me to pause and ask myself, ‘Did I actually have the opportunity to see the inner workings of the PMO?’” Vaillancourt recalled.

“Was Nigel Wright actually ordering senior members of the Senate around as if they were mere pawns on a chessboard? Were those same senior members of the Senate meekly acquiescing to Mr. Wright’s order [and] robotically marching forth to recite their provided scripted lines? Did Nigel Wright really direct a senator to approach a senior member of an accounting firm that was conducting an independent audit of the Senate with the intention to either get a peek at the report, or part of the report, prior to its release to the appropriate Senate authorities or to influence that report in any way?”

And, finally, “does the reading of these emails give the impression that Senator Duffy was going to do as he was told or face the consequences?”

The answers to those questions, Vaillancourt continued, are “YES; YES; YES; YES; YES; and YES!!!!!” – the capitalization and every one of those five exclamation marks from the ruling as written.

“The political, covert, relentless unfolding of events is mindboggling and shocking,” Vaillancourt concluded.

“The precision and planning of the exercise would make any military commander proud. However, in the context of a democratic society, the plotting as revealed in the emails can only be described as unacceptable.”

For many of us listening to the judge read his ruling into the record, that was the part we never saw coming, even after spending untold hours reading, re-reading, cross-referencing and analyzing those very same emails that led him to that conclusion.


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