Events of the past week have demonstrated what the limits of responsibility are in the Harper government. Violating the ministerial code of conduct is fine — Jim Flaherty’s letter to the CRTC, for instance. Expensing a $16 glass of orange juice — okay, too. Bilking tens of thousands of dollars from taxpayers through residence flimflammery, like Mike Duffy or several other senators — also good. Sexual assault, however, is not okay — Patrick Brazeau.
Which is why I have to wonder very seriously why it is that Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan has announced his surprise resignation over a letter he sent to the Tax Court almost two years ago on behalf of a constituent. It’s a very long time ago and it’s the sort of influencing that the Prime Minister has tolerated in the past from Flaherty, amongst others. It can’t be Duncan’s own decision to “accept responsibility,” which is how it’s being spun, or he would have resigned a long time ago — or, better yet, have never sent the letter in the first place.
That said, Canadians very much need to know the details of this alleged incident. The rules that caught up Minister Flaherty a few weeks ago are just slightly ambiguous, because it’s commonly accepted that backbench MPs can lobby so-called “quasi-judicial” councils like the CRTC on behalf of constituents, whereas ministers are not allowed to.
But the Tax Court of Canada is not a quasi-judicial organization. It is a judicial organization. The rules were written the way they were because it was assumed that no Cabinet minister would be bone-dead stupid enough to do this. What was Duncan thinking? Who was he intervening on behalf of? What were the contents of the letter? What was the expected result?
Imagine, by way of comparison, that one of our Cabinet ministers wrote a letter to whichever judge Senator Patrick Brazeau will be appearing in front of on his sexual assault charges, trying to influence the outcome. This would be an unthinkable abuse of the justice system. Well, guess what: it’s the same thing. The Tax Court is a court too, even if it isn’t exactly a high-profile one.Tweet