National Affairs column
Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella publicly mused a couple of days ago about the need to allow TV cameras in the upper house.
Had they been there this week, Canadians would have been able to watch live coverage of a coverup.
One rarely gets to watch a coverup in real time, in broad daylight, but our Senate is where logic and morality go to die.
This week, the Conservative Senate majority endorsed an earlier decision by its majority on a committee refusing to call a central player to testify about his role in what appears to be a case of audit-tampering.
The allegations, as laid out by the RCMP, are now well known.
Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, turned to Conservative Sen. Irving Gerstein and asked him to reach out to Deloitte as it was auditing the expenses of Mike Duffy.
Gerstein called Michael Runia, a managing partner at Deloitte who oversees the party's books, and Runia ultimately called the lead auditor on the Duffy file, Gary Timm.
Timm testified that Runia asked how much Duffy would owe if his expenses were ruled invalid, but Timm told him it was improper to divulge any information and that was the end of the conversation.
This is apparently good enough for Conservatives, starting at the top. Harper told the Commons Thursday that the integrity of the audit had been preserved.
But Gerstein had agreed to use party funds to repay Duffy, balking only when the bill climbed to $90,000.
Part of the Wright-Duffy deal, the RCMP alleges, was an audit finding that did not pronounce on Duffy's primary residence.
We still have no idea what Gerstein said to Runia. We have no idea what Runia recalls asking Timm.
And there has been no explanation for the fact that Harper's office, according to emails released by the RCMP, seemed to know in advance what the audit would find. Indeed, the Deloitte finding was just as predicted and just as required as part of the deal.
Conservative senators, already seen as the branch plant of a corrupt PMO, turned around and did their master's bidding again.
In the Conservative world of deception and double standards, calling Runia would interfere with any RCMP investigation into the matter.
Never mind that Harper stresses daily in the Commons that only two men are under police investigation, Wright and Duffy.
Never mind that these same Conservatives had no worries about getting in the way of an RCMP investigation when they spent weeks trying, and ultimately succeeding, in having Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau suspended without pay.
"How can it then be that an RCMP investigation of other people prevents us from calling Mr. Runia, who is not under any investigation, to testify?" Liberal Senate leader James Cowan asked.
"There is no logic behind that argument."
No, but this is the Senate.
Cowan was set to try one more time - arguing that the audit interference was a breach of senators' privilege, but we are dealing with an institution where you can make rulings about yourself without any debate.
Liberal Sen. Céline Hervieux-Payette tried to move a motion to have Gerstein removed as chair of the Senate banking committee until he testified about his role in the Duffy payout.
Gerstein didn't leave his seat and let members debate. He merely ruled her out of order and continued on his way.
Newfoundland Liberal George Furey pleaded with his colleagues not to give Canadians another reason to abolish the place.
"We cannot stand here … and tell Canadians that partisanship has so eroded our independence that we no longer care about the truth, that we no longer care about why an audit paid for with public funds was interfered with and that we no longer care about that most fundamental aspect of our role in this place, our very independence,'' he said.
But he had already lost his audience.
The Conservative leader, Claude Carignan, was so unimpressed with the arguments before him, he suggested they merited a chat over a beer at a Sparks Street pub, nothing more.
Some Conservative senators conceded, in advance of the vote, that they would be accused of a coverup and be slammed in the court of public opinion yet again, but not a single Conservative broke ranks and voted to hear from Runia.
If they were willing to take another hit for this, one has to wonder about the real damage that would come from testimony from Runia and Gerstein.
Tim Harper is a national affairs writer whose column is distributed through Torstar Syndication Services. firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter:@nutgraf1.