Duffy, the Government and the problem with “no-notes” meetings

So, for my non-canadian readers, there is a significant scandal brewing up here in Canadaland, regarding a senator, who claimed certain expenses he was not allowed to (to the tune of $90,000) and then had that debt paid for by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff (who has now resigned).

This short paragraph in an article by the star captures the dark nature of the exchange:

…once the repayment was made, Duffy stopped cooperating with independent auditors examining his expense claims. When a Senate committee met behind closed doors in early May to write the final report on the results of the audit, Conservatives used their majority to soften the conclusions about Duffy’s misuse of taxpayers’ money.

So, it was money designed to make a potential minor scandal go away.

Now the opposition party  ethics critic Charlie Angus is calling for an RCMP investigation. From the same story:

“Where is the paper trail? Who was involved,” Angus said.

“If there is a signed agreement between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright or Mr. Duffy and the Prime Minister’s Office, we need to see that documentation,” he said.

And herein lies an interesting rub. This government is infamous for holding “no-note” meetings. I’ve been told about such meetings on numerous occasions by public servants. Perhaps they are making it up. But I don’t think so. The accusations have happened too many times.

So maybe there is a paper trail between the Prime Minister’s Office and Senator Duffy. There were lawyers involved… so one suspects there was. But who knows. Maybe there isn’t. And the lack of a paper trail won’t give many people confidence. Indeed, with Duffy now no longer in the Conservative Caucus and with the Chief of Staff resigned everyone is now looking at the Prime Minister, people are now starting to focus on the Prime Minister. What did he know?

And therein lies the bigger rub. In an environment where there is no paper trail one cannot audit who knew what or who is responsible. This means everyone is responsible, all the way to the top. So a “no-notes” meeting can be good for keeping the public from knowing certain decisions, and who made them, but the approach fails once the public finds out about one of these decisions and starts to care. If there is no smoking email in which someone else claims responsibility, it is going to be hard for this not to reach the Prime Minister’s desk.

Politicians and political staff will sometimes forget that the rules and processes around meetings – which appear to be designed to simply promote a degree of (annoying to them) transparency and accountability – are as much about creating a record for the public as they are about protecting the people involved.

 

 

One thought on “Duffy, the Government and the problem with “no-notes” meetings

  1. Mike

    “In an environment where there is no paper trail one cannot audit who knew what or who is responsible. This means everyone is responsible, all the way to the top.”

    I’m not so convinced that everyone gets held responsible. It seems that in creating this cloud of uncertainty, “someone” will be still be responsible, but that fall-guy can be determined when needed. If anything, it’s designed to be that flexible so as to protect the guy at the top. Everyone else can first be trotted out to take the fall. A variation on plausible deniability, if you will.
    I think this is due to the leader-centric political climate that has evolved in Canada. Any member of the government can be caught doing something wrong and simply be replaced. Except the leader. Whatever happens, find a way to blame anyone else except the leader – you need him to frown, tell everyone he’s equally surprised, and promise he will fix it.

    Reply

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