I am Mike Duffy

June 19, 2013

For those of you who don’t follow Canadian politics (and I suspect you are the salient majority), let me summarize for you one of our current scandals.

In this country, our elected officials in the national government (the House of Commons) have their proposed legislation reviewed, revised and/or approved by a group of appointed officials in the “house of sober second thought” (the Senate).  Some politicians don’t like this way of doing things, some are happy to use the system to their advantage, and some, like our Prime Minister, seem to be both.

The main complaints are that the Senators are appointed, their terms only end when they die, they are essentially unaccountable, and they are remnants of an old, irrelevant British structure.  I feel some sympathy for them though; if they display too much independent thought, the legitimacy of their institution is called into question, if they demonstrate no independent thought and simply vote along party lines, they legitimacy of their institution is called into question.

Like many of us, they are entitled to submit requests to be reimbursed for relevant expenses to their work.  Recently, a few senators have gotten into trouble for claiming more expenses than they were allowed.  I’m guessing most people have to have their expenses approved before they get the money, but that doesn’t seem to be a hoop that our senators have to jump through.  The most famous of these senators is Mike Duffy, a former journalist, who had $90,000 of inflated claims brought to the public attention.  Suddenly that sum was repaid and it seemed that the issue might go away.  Then, it became known that the fee was paid by a friend of Duffy’s, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, with a personal cheque.

This is where the story exploded, but let me interject with my spiritual point.  The characters might not line up like we would like them to, but this is an obvious parallel to the traditional, substitutionary atonement telling of the gospel. The main character incurs a fine, the hero who is innocent, pays the fine instead.  This is obviously not the first, or the best, example of this kind of parallel, but the important connections continue.  Tom Wright, the chief of staff, a successful businessman who was growing in power and influence as a political man, resigned his post, sacrificing his political life for the good of Mike Duffy’s political life.

There are obvious political questions to be asked about this story.  Were strings attached to this gift? Was it really Tom Wright’s own personal money?  Was the Prime Minister aware of/behind this deal?  Does any of this constitute a criminal offense?  Is this an indicator of fundamental corruption in the Senate, governing party, etc?  All of these questions will continue to be asked in the newspapers of this country until the next election, I’m sure.  But there are other questions that are on the minds of Canadian people at various points along the political spectrum, questions that might not necessarily fit within the regular political protocol, but are nonetheless a part of the greater ethical and religious mindset.

“What did Mike Duffy do to deserve this gift?” If there is a specific thing that he did, was that thing proper?  Did it happen behind closed doors?  Is Mike Duffy unfairly benefitting when others without the same connections can’t?  Spiritual parallel: Is it fair that Mike Duffy got the gift, and other people won’t?  Was this planned ahead of time?  Was it because he asked for the gift or because he was chosen to receive it? IIs it possible that Mike Duffy did nothing to deserve the gift?

“Did Mike Duffy learn his lesson?” This one is impossible to measure, until of course he demonstrates that he hasn’t, but people are curious, because if he hasn’t learned his lesson, then he shouldn’t be able to continue in his present position.  Spiritual parallel: Did receiving the gift interfere with his ability to learn his lesson by sparing him from the punishment that was due to him? Can the gift be cancelled if he demonstrates that he didn’t learn his lesson?

“Is Mike Duffy worth saving?”  This is a spiritual parallel in itself.  The underlying theme of many articles and public comments about this story is that no, he is not.  In this case, the court of public opinion resembles very closely the court of religious society.

I am not qualified to speak on the political details of this story, but the spiritual aspect hits me every time I see his face in the news.  I firmly believe there is much more to the gospel story than a simple transaction that grants me access to heaven, but in many ways, I am Mike Duffy.  This is a man who has received mercy, and I too have been spared the punishment my actions deserve.  Like it or not, Mike Duffy carries no debt with the governing authorities, and my debt has also been covered.  Neither of us can explain why we got our gifts, and it often seems like the only person who believes we were worthy recipients of the gift is the gift-giver.

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