By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday August 25, 2015
The Growing Power of the PMO
In 2006, Stephen Harper rode into Ottawa with a mandate to clean up the ethical wreckage of the Liberal sponsorship scandal. The Conservative Party leader moved quickly as the prime minister of a minority government. He banned corporate and union donations, and lowered the individual donation limit to $1,000. He toughened federal lobbying rules, created the Parliamentary Budget Office and gave additional powers to the Ethics Commissioner.
His goal, he said over and over, was to return accountability to Ottawa. And he did that, to a degree. His reforms have helped bring the federal government up to date on important issues of political financing and budget oversight.
Not surprisingly, though, Mr. Harper failed to target the real source of Ottawa’s accountability crisis. As the trial of Mike Duffy has reminded us, the greatest threat to responsible government in Canada is none other than the Prime Minister’s Office.
Over the past 40 years, the PMO has morphed into a parasite on the body of Parliament that prospers by sucking the democracy out of its host. The court-documented efforts by Nigel Wright, the former chief of staff to Mr. Harper, to control the Senate from inside the PMO are outrageous only because they have been exposed by Mr. Duffy’s lawyer. The real scandal lies below the surface, where the PMO uses its toxic tentacles to neutralize every part of government that might compete with it for power, so that today we are ruled by an imperial prime minister, unaccountable to anyone or anything.
Do not blame Mr. Harper alone for this. The expansion of the PMO began under Pierre Trudeau, and every prime minister since then has been responsible for increasing its malignant grip on Parliament. Brian Mulroney was the first to name a “chief of staff” and elevate that person above the principal secretary who was, up till then, the highest unelected authority in the PMO. Jean Chrétien relied on the protective coating of the PMO to shield himself from direct responsibility for the sponsorship scandal, just as Mr. Harper is now doing in the Duffy affair. (Continued: Globe & Mail)