Harper, Duffy face off

Does Stephen Harper lay awake at night fearing Mike Duffy? Should he? First, consider the alternative. Does Mike Duffy lay awake at night in Prince Edward Island fearing jail time? Should he?

Does Stephen Harper lay awake at night fearing Mike Duffy?

Should he?

First, consider the alternative.

Does Mike Duffy lay awake at night in Prince Edward Island fearing jail time?

Should he?

These are the stakes in a drama that began to play out in an Ottawa courtroom Tuesday.

This is going to end poorly for one of these two men — maybe both of them.

By now, the entire country is familiar with the narrative that has been crafted, in which the disgraced senator returns from the political grave to take down his tormenter, then returns to his P.E.I. enclave, his mission complete.

Like most grand narratives, the tale looks better on the story board.

Duffy and his lawyer, Donald Bayne, would like to have this matter at trial — with the country hearing dirty laundry in Harper’s office being aired, topped off by testimony from the prime minister himself — during an election year. A trial could last two months.

But first they have to tweak the narrative.

Step one — drop the naked revenge theme.

“This isn’t being run as a personal or political vendetta,” Bayne said on Tuesday. He pledged he would not have his trial turned into a political circus.

If, as the old adage goes, you can’t fight city hall, try dragging down a long-serving prime minister by vindictively signalling that goal.

We will now hear that Duffy doesn’t pose a threat to Harper but instead the danger comes from ripping the cover off the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The conduit for that would be Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff who wrote a personal cheque for $90,000 to cover Duffy’s disputed expenses, part of what Bayne has argued was a PMO concoction to end a political problem; a scheme Duffy entered into reluctantly.

Bayne put it this way last July: “There is much that is offensive here. But the evidence will show that it did not emanate from Senator Duffy.”

Regardless of that statement, expect now to hear that Duffy is a conservative, a man merely trying to clear his name, not settle scores.

Step two — justify your need for speed in a non-political context.

Don’t make it sound like a political timetable, but say the urgency is due to the “physical, emotional and mental health,” of the senator.

Duffy has had open heart surgery, and surely he is under duress, but there appear to be no immediate health concerns. Duffy’s health had nothing to do with his decision not to travel to Ottawa on Tuesday.

Step three — don’t eagerly target Harper.

Bayne has talked about a “big evidentiary iceberg,” and a damaging email chain and implied he knew something about Harper’s involvement in the Wright payment, something Harper has always denied.

“I do have some information, but I can’t … I’m not presently prepared to divulge it,’’ Bayne said 11 months ago.

Now, the strategy would be to pull back from the vow that the prime minister will be called to testify. Just don’t rule it out, let the politicians and the pundits continually raise it and know his appearance would trump any other disclosures from the likes of former Senate leader Marjory LeBreton, senators on the board of internal economy, or even Wright.

It leaves us with a much more anodyne story than the previous elbows-up saga.

Clear the poor senator’s name and if Harper is hurt in the process, so be it.

Harper reiterated on Tuesday that he has nothing to add should he be subpoenaed.

The prime minister has co-operated “fully and freely’’ with the RCMP, said his spokesman Jason MacDonald.

“The RCMP have noted this and, after a thorough investigation, have made it clear who they believe is guilty of wrongdoing — Mike Duffy. They have also made clear that they do not believe the prime minister had any knowledge of Mr. Duffy’s wrongdoing. Given this, it is difficult to imagine that the prime minister would have any information that could be relevant to Mr. Duffy’s defence.’’

Right now, it’s likely that if anyone is having night yips about this, it is the man on the island.

Duffy is facing 31 complex charges, his reputation may not be salvageable, he does face the prospect of spending his declining years behind bars and it is not a given that Ontario’s backlogged court system can clear the time for a trial on his political timetable.

But all that could change if Duffy can force a subpoena on Harper.

The prime minister may have a number of perfectly legal reasons to refuse, but should he do so, he loses, Duffy wins and the senator sleeps soundly in the political world in which they both live.

Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at tharper@thestar.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan takes part in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on December 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives to call top Sajjan, Trudeau aides to testify on Vance allegations

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives plan to summon two senior Liberal aides… Continue reading

Elvira D'Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Several provinces were preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday, as Canada’s… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

Most Read