Taylor: Reading the characters in a nasty play

Tell-tale signs come from lead actors in the Senate.

OK I can’t help it. The scandal over expense accounts, shady deals, and excommunication in the Canadian Senate has gone on so long, and been so vehement, that I cannot help writing something about it.

To recap: Three senators—Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, and Patrick Brazeau—were accused of fudging their expense accounts for housing and travel. The total involved about $315,000. They have repaid the funds that they should not have received.

Except that Mike Duffy had his expenses covered by a personal cheque from the Prime Minister’s then-Chief of Staff. And Duffy’s legal expenses were paid by the Conservative Party, approved by the party’s lawyer.

In the House of Commons, Opposition parties have attempted to implicate the Prime Minister in these payments. He denies all charges. He did not personally interfere. He knew nothing of any arrangements for payment. Anything his staff did, they did on their own.

The controversy has grown steadily more bitter, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former journalist Mike Duffy batting accusations back and forth like a ping pong ball.

I don’t like either of them. I don’t trust them. But in this controversy, I’m more inclined to believe Duffy than Harper.

I have no inside knowledge of the situation, no “Deep Throat” informants. All I can judge by is the characters’ performances.

Duffy presents evidence to back up his accusations—e-mails, cancelled cheques, signed letters. No one has suggested those documents were forged. That lends credibility to Duffy’s charges.

His behaviour also rings true. Before he came under fire, he campaigned vigorously for the party and leader who appointed him. The venom with which he now attacks that leader fits with a sense of personal betrayal.

Under similar circumstances, I would want to lash out too.

As a child, I remember, I occasionally got bullied. I usually avoided confrontation. I backed away. Until I got cornered. When I could no longer escape, I went berserk. I didn’t care what might happen to me as long as I could hurt my tormentors.

That’s precisely what Mike Duffy seems to be doing.

Stephen Harper, on the other hand, reminds me of a corporate CEO trying to divulge as little as possible about his company’s unethical practices. He issues denials; he attacks his accusers. He never presents hard evidence. He avoids adding additional details.

Here too I recognize myself. I learned long ago that I’m a lousy liar. When tempted to fib, I squirm so uncomfortably that the truth is painfully obvious. A co-worker once called me the guy congenitally unable to lie.

So I learned, instead of lying, not to volunteer information. The less I said, the less likely I was to get tripped up later by some nasty detail.

Stephen Harpers acts as I would, if I were trying to avoid telling the full truth. He’s not necessarily lying, but he’s concealing stuff he doesn’t want us to know.

I could be wrong, of course. I’ll be interested to see how my character assessments pan out, as the Senate scandal continues to unfold.