Will the Senate scandal stick to Stephen Harper?

Thomas Bink
Pulse of Canada
Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Lac Megantic, Que., Thursday, November 21, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Another day, another twist in the ongoing Senate scandal. In an 80-page court filing by the RCMP, exchanged emails suggest Prime Minister Stephen Harper's staff and top senators worked together to cover up information on Senator Mike Duffy's contested living expenses. The information comes closest to alleging Harper knew about plans to repay Duffy's expenses.

So we ask: Will the Senate scandal stick to Stephen Harper and affect his chances in the next federal election?

Thomas Bink: I think it's hard to say right now. The next election isn't until 2015 — a lot can change before then. And in terms of this scandal … I think it's getting pretty clear that Harper was involved in Mike Duffy's expenses payment and subsequent coverup. At the same time, Harper's been an advocate of Senate reform from the get-go, and I think the opposition parties are taking great joy in making him the scapegoat for misconduct that's been going on within the Senate for eons. I think if Harper focuses on fixing the actual Senate problems and sticks to economic issues going into the next election like B.C. Premier Christy Clark did, he should be OK.

Matthew Coutts: Oh come on, that can’t be so! The dirt is starting to stick to Harper’s suit and, after having his luster rubbed off almost entirely over the past several months, it can’t possibly come clean in time for the 2015 election. He is already facing tough fights in ridings that were previously a Tory lock (shout out to Brandon-Souris). The ball is rolling downhill now, there’s no way to stop it. But I hear what you are saying, Tom. A year is a lifetime in politics; there are many chapters yet to be written before the public goes to the polls. But this is too big to be forgotten. Does he lose power? Too soon to say. But the Senate scandal definitely plays a role. I’m calling a Conservative minority in 2015.

More on the Senate scandal:

Rattled senators disturbed by RCMP tale of meddling by PMO

CBC's At Issue panel weighs in on what Harper knew

Harper ducks queries about fundraising chief in Duffy affair

Plucky Tory staffer stood his ground against PMO on secret Duffy plan

Full coverage: Canada's Senate scandal

Andy Radia: Yes – things looks bad for the PM. He appointed the senators, hired Nigel Wright and the PMO staffers involved in this fiasco. Moreover, a recent poll suggested that only 21 per cent of Canadians buy his explanation that he knew nothing about Wright’s ‘gift’ to Duffy. But scandals happen to all governments of all political stripes. It’s how the leadership deals with the scandal that ultimately decides that government’s fate. And I think Harper has handled this pretty well: Wright is gone as are the three Senators. And I agree with Tom — the ballot box question in the next election will likely be the economy. And on that issue, Harper has the most credibility.

Bink: Like I said, I think it's pretty clear by now that Harper was in the loop on trying to cover up Duffy's expense mess. But Duffy is just a landmine for all the misconduct that's been going on in the Senate since the beginning of time, and I can actually understand why Harper tried to avoid getting hit with the shrapnel. As Andy pointed out, "scandals" seem to happen all the time and at all levels of government. If Trudeau or Mulcair were in charge, there would undoubtedly be some sort of soap opera dominating the airwaves. Looking at the bigger picture, Harper's record hasn't been all that bad, and he'll hammer on that during the campaign.

Coutts: Wow, if that’s the case guys, then we really do get the governments we deserve. Since when is, “It would probably be just as bad under someone else,” a reasonable conclusion to dismiss the failings of a leader? Everyone cheats, everyone misleads the public. We can accept this? If the public doesn’t at least remember Harper’s role in the Senate scandal by the time the next election rolls around, I’ll be shocked. Scratch that, I won’t be shocked. But I will be disappointed. I’ll climb off my high horse now, because it’s a different story if the Tories run a scandal-free final leg. But as you say, scandals happen all the time.

Radia: I hear your frustration Matt, I really do. Unfortunately, there are scandals in each government. In this case the 'bad seeds' have been dealt with. Yes a $90k gift to a senator is bad news. But so was the $40 million sponsorship scandal. So were the illegal union donations accepted by the NDP. I think Canadians are smart enough to step back, look at the big picture and decide who will provide the best governance. They're not going to get distracted by a scandal. Now, if there's any evidence that shows the PM was involved — then that's a different story.

Bink: Well, there's still lots of time before Canadians have to go to the polls. It'll be an interesting ride until 2015.

What do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.

Matthew Coutts is a national affairs writer for Yahoo Canada and Andy Radia is Yahoo Canada's politics expert. Thomas Bink is the Managing Editor for Yahoo Canada News.