Which Tory should resign?

It is the refuge of the frustrated opposition politician.

It is the refuge of the frustrated opposition politician.

“Resign,” comes the cri de coeur, a call now coming with more intensity and frequency.

It has been heard four times in the past two weeks, calls for the ouster of Defence Minister Peter MacKay, the associate defence minister, Julian Fantino, Industry Minister Christian Paradis and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Until Thursday, the calls had usually come from the third-party Liberals and the call for Harper’s ouster came from interim leader Bob Rae.

New Democrats had been more circumspect, but auditor general Michael Ferguson’s revelation that the cabinet had to know — before the 2011 election — that the F-35s were more costly than they were saying publicly, sparked Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair to call for MacKay’s resignation.

Based on convention and invoking the sometimes elusive qualities of honour and accountability, how many, if any, of the four really should resign?

MacKay was clearly missing in action on the biggest file on his watch, and he may have been complicit in misleading Parliament on the cost of the planes.

He has become a liability to Harper, who had to defend him earlier after revelations about his use of a government search-and-rescue helicopter to extricate himself from a fishing lodge.

New Democrats called for his resignation then.

Harper and MacKay hunkered down after the helicopter ride and are doing so again after it was made clear by Ferguson that the bureaucracy took MacKay for a ride.

There are no consequences because no money has been spent purchasing the planes, Harper said Thursday.

But the noose is tightening around MacKay.

But MacKay’s fate is tricky for Harper.

MacKay may yet harbour leadership ambitions, he has a strong following in the party and he represents the moderate wing of the Conservatives.

Harper would risk too much political blowback if he demoted him, but whether it is the question of misleading Parliament or accountability, MacKay is on extremely shaky ground.

Fantino, the associate minister of defence has been feckless, but has been asked by Harper to become a human shield, repeating the same talking points day after day to take the heat off MacKay.

Liberal Judy Foote said in so doing Fantino misled Canadians and should resign.

That is nonsense. Fantino need not resign, but with the F-35 responsibility moved to Public Works he is now massively underemployed.

Rae was clearly overreaching in demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation. Rae likened the situation to a private company CEO who peddled misinformation to shareholders and made a $10 billion error in the real costs of a project.

That CEO would be fired, Rae said.

Sure enough, but a democratically elected Prime Minister is not going to resign because his government is under siege and Rae knows that.

Paradis is only peripherally involved in the F-35 fiasco. But he has been found guilty of conflict-of-interest, he is labouring under two other ethical clouds involving the moving of a government office to his home riding and a visit to a hunting lodge of Marcel Aubut, who was lobbying the government for money for a new hockey arena.

On Wednesday, CTV News revealed his spokesperson (who resigned last week) had put a Las Vegas hotel room on his government-issued credit card during a personal vacation.

Paradis may be important to Harper in Quebec, but the mountain of real or perceived ethics breaches has become too much and he should resign.

That’s what should happen, but as Harper has shown time and again, he is inclined to tough it out rather than admit failure by firing a minister.

He does not shuffle his cabinet under pressure.

But beyond the solid quartet of senior ministers – John Baird, Jim Flaherty, Jason Kenney and James Moore — this is a cabinet that often can’t seem to steer clear of trouble.

Tim Harper is a syndicated national affairs writer for the Toronto Star.

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