Keith Beardsley’s View From the Hill – Nigel Wright’s Ottawa Inquisition Question? – Cornwall Ontario – November 3, 2010

Cornwall ON – Nigel Wright paid a visit to Parliament Hill yesterday. The big question is was anything accomplished?

On a positive note his appearance before the ethics committee did give Ottawa reporters something to get worked up about. Some reporters had a chance to breathlessly blog every question and comment, but outside of other media types, politicians and a few political junkies, who really cared? Was anything actually achieved?

The opposition members of the committee tried to roast him and they were their usual unpleasant selves. Conservative members tossed Wright their usual soft-ball questions. Canadians read about it in today’s papers or saw it last night on their news broadcasts yawned and waited for the next story.

Wright’s appearance was a typical Ottawa “inside the Queensway” story. It was one that was manufactured by the opposition to get a few media hits. It gave them the opportunity to grandstand and win a few quotes in stories. They tried to convince Canadians that they had a genuine interest in protecting Canada from Nigel Wright’s potential conflict of interests. What a sham.

By all accounts Wright is a pretty honest and straight forward person. He is not stupid enough to knowingly put himself in a conflict of interest situation. Paper flow of memos, briefing notes and reports is easily managed inside PMO and the Liberals know that having spent time in government. If your name isn’t on the distribution list you don’t get a copy. PCO follows these procedures every day; it’s not something that had to be invented to protect Wright. By having his Deputy Chief of Staff review material before it goes to him, Wright has put in place an extra step that at least offers the opportunity to filter out anything that might have mistakenly slipped through.

The opposition won’t be dissuaded that Wright’s appearance as a private citizen means they can’t call him back after November 8th, when he is a staff member. Nothing solved on that issue.

Neither will they be dissuaded from saying that they feel he is conflicted. Nothing accomplished here either.

Down the road the opposition will still raise issues in question period that suggest Wright was involved in a conflict of interest when decisions were made. Parliamentary immunity when conducting a smear job is a wonderful thing. Nothing accomplished on this point either.

On November the eighth, opposition members get to grandstand again and rehash their same tired talk points. On January the 1st when Wright officially takes over they can do this again with about the same number of Canadians listening.

A few things were accomplished. By giving the opposition details of his personal agreement with the ethics commissioner, Wright has set a precedent for future Chiefs of Staff who can now expect to have their personal documents scrutinized in public by the opposition and media. These same individuals can also expect to be required to appear before this committee to justify their suitability for their position. Is that really the end game the government wanted? I doubt that very much.

Wright’s documents will also allow opposition research teams to better focus their Access to Information requests as they know exactly what to look for when searching for potential problems.  It was nice of PMO to be helpful on that point.

And of course the opposition will have given every successful businessman in Canada pause to think twice before deciding to serve Canada and Canadian Prime Ministers. It is understandable that the Bloc and NDP would use his appearance as a chance to hang him before he even started on the job, after all they won’t ever run the government unless part of some sort of coalition. But the Liberals should have known better. Eventually the Liberals will be in government again and they may want a successful and highly skilled businessman to serve as Chief of Staff to their Prime Minister. What comes around goes around and they may yet live to regret their grandstanding over Wright’s appointment.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

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