A Secret Internal Memo Shows Stephen Harper's Office Wanted Complete Control Of The Senate

The memo to the prime minister condemns Conservative senators for calling for a national pharmacare program and more funding for aboriginal education.

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In a March 2013 memo to Stephen Harper, his chief of staff Nigel Wright and other senior staffers raged that Conservative Senators were too independent and had recommended policies that were not pre-approved by the Prime Minister's Office.

Blair Gable / Reuters

In theory, the Senate is supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought. But Wright and his crew railed against Conservative Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton for allowing Senators to act outside of the direction of the prime minister.

The memo was made public Tuesday when it was tabled into evidence in the Mike Duffy trial.

Wright listed several problems with LeBreton's control of the Senate. "There are Senate committee reports that call on the government to lower airport rents, create a national pharmacare plan and invest heavily in aboriginal education," he wrote.

Chris Wattie / Reuters

All of those proposals apparently contradicted the Conservative party line.

Wright's memo shows that the Prime Minister’s Office has strict control over what happens in the House of Commons, and rips in to LeBreton for not exercising the same control over the Tories in the Senate.

“What we have discovered is that the lines of communication and levers that are available to us on the House side, simply are not in place on the Senate side,” Wright says. “It was quickly apparent that Senator LeBreton's office had little influence over what other Senators did and said, and limited reach into the Senate caucus generally.”

“Consistently, Senator LeBreton does not embrace the work of your office to bring communication and direction with the Senate closer to the model that we have with the House Leader and Chief Government Whip.”

LeBreton publicly insisted that she ran her own shop and did not answer to the PMO. But a few months after Wright's memo she was booted from the Senate leadership.

Chris Wattie / Reuters

Among LeBreton's perceived offences was working too closely with Liberal senators, and sometimes even having meetings with Liberals before the PMO was notified.

The broader purpose of the memo was to lay out a plan to rein in the Conservative Senators. In the memo, Wright provides a suggested response from Harper to LeBreton. In it, he asks her to “work closely with my office to ensure that the Government’s messaging and direction are implemented.”

Wright also fumed that Senators created a residency test for Senate expense purposes without first making sure no Conservatives would be embarrassed.

Chris Wattie / Reuters

Sure enough, Harper-appointed Senator Dennis Patterson got caught up as possibly filing inappropriate housing expenses under the new rules.

Wright complained in the letter to Harper that this happened because Senators set the rules "publicly without any prior consultation with your office and no prior assessment of whether Conservative Senators would fail the test."