Harper returns to Canada, will face scandal questions

Prime Minister Stephen Harper returned from his trip to South America Friday, and there is one heck of a mess waiting for him on Parliament Hill.

Maclean’s Magazine Ottawa Bureau Chief John Geddes says the Conservatives are at one of the party’s lowest points since they formed government in 2006.

As the RCMP was looking into whether to open a criminal investigation into the senator spending scandal yesterday, Senator Mike Duffy was calling for a full and open inquiry into the $90,000 cheque he received from Harper’s former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright.

Harper still hasn’t answered questions on the scandal and Geddes says the prime minister will probably take the weekend to figure out what his next move will be.

“There are two possibilities here. One is to tackle the issues head on and try to address them more explicitly, be more apologetic but also be more definitive in explaining exactly what happened in his own office,” explains Geddes.

“The other would be to try to fill the vacuum or give people something else to think about, which is to try to show a vigorous, activist agenda and hope that he can cruise through to the end of the Parliamentary session in June.”
He tells us Harper will likely try to re-group over the summer and then try to gain some momentum with a new policy speech.

Geddes also expects Harper will shuffle his cabinet and come out with a throne speech in an attempt to shift the conversation away from the senate.

In the meantime, new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is getting a nice bump in the polls and the NDP continues to hammer away at the Tories with its campaign to abolish the senate.

Geddes says Harper’s problems don’t end there. “They’ve had this backbench revolt that was really over the freedom of Conservative backbenchers to say what they like in the House.”

“It was prompted by the desire of some MPs to talk on abortion related issues and all of that really injected a sense of independence in backbench MPs who typically towed the line. Now we’re starting to hearing grumblings from the backbenches and I think the two things are related. I think those MPs started to think, ‘Hey, we’re tired of being told what to say and when.’ Now that this fiasco is unfolding, I think some of them would like to speak their minds a little bit, so Harper has a caucus management problem on his hands.”

Geddes says while things don’t look good for Harper right now, this crisis probably isn’t as big as the one he faced in 2008 when the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebecois threatened to form a coalition government.