Embattled Conservative Senator, Mike Duffy, has dominated headlines with shocking accusations against the Harper government. Many of them were supported by documentary evidence, like a second cheque written by party lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, to cover his legal expenses in the senate scandal.
Duffy produced emails between himself and Nigel Wright, but one thing the letters couldn’t verify is a claim against the PMO for concocting his false statement to explain the $90,000.
“Duffy claimed that he had “reluctantly agreed” to go along with the scheme, that the script was written and emailed to him by the PMO and that the lines he would use with the media were “rehearsed with me right up until minutes before I went on television.”
He offered a damning view of Harper’s involvement and heavy-handed management, but is this scripting true? Perhaps the same should be asked of the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, when it comes to crafting a substitute narrative in defence of the Conservative brand.
Yesterday in Question Period, MP Calandra did his best to ease the backlash and deflect from the Prime Minister. He raised a few eyebrows with stories about his father and the family’s darling pizza store, while arguing to punish Harper’s appointed senators with everything they could.
Aaron Wherry built a political food analogy around this at Macleans. He begins,
“My father owned a pizza store,” Mr. Calandra reported. ”He worked 16 to 18 hours a day. I can tell you what my father would not have done if he saw somebody stealing from his cash register. He would not have said–”
Across the aisle, a voice shouted that Mr. Calandra’s father wouldn’t have paid his employee’s legal fees. The New Democrats laughed, as they did often this afternoon.
“–’You are suspended, but make sure you come back every two weeks and collect a paycheque,’ ” Mr. Calandra continued. ”I tell the House what he would have said. He would have said, ‘You are fired, leave,’ and he would have called the police.”
Twitter also began trending with quips about the pizza story:
As senior political reporter for the Toronto Star, Susan Delacourt went digging and found additional references Calandra had made to this pizza story before. On May 23, 2013, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary offered,
“My parents came to this country. They worked hard. I talked about this last night. They owned a pizza store when I was young. They got up at 10 o’clock every morning, and they were at the store. They worked all day and all night until 3 o’clock the next morning. They worked very hard to support the family. They never once complained. They worked extraordinarily hard, long hours. They never once complained about how difficult their lot was in life. They did not try to pass a motion to go home at 10:30. When people called the store and wanted to order pizza, they did not say they had to vote because they maybe wanted to go home early. They did not do that. They did what all other Canadians do. They worked hard. They invested in their families. They invested in their business, and they were proud to do it. I wish sometimes that the NDP, and in fact the Liberals, would actually consider those hard-working Canadians who have sent us here before they decide to go home.”
MP Calandra continues on May 28, 2013,
“Let us talk about people like Frank from Frank’s & Son Barber Shop in my riding. Here are two guys who work extraordinarily hard. Last week I had the extraordinary pleasure to be able to talk about my mother and father, who owned a pizza store, and how hard they worked. I know you will recall that, Mr. Speaker, because I was up speaking literally moments after the NDP once again tried to adjourn debate on important pieces of legislation. It was nine o’clock and they were starting to get sleepy, so they made the decision that they wanted to close down Parliament because they were tired.”
The pizza story is popular this year, to build Calandra’s reputation as a hard-working Conservative with irreproachable values. Who doesn’t love an Italian-Canadian family that worked their fingers to the bone, to fill our bellies with the most savoury blend of all the food groups? The barbers at Frank’s shop would likely enjoy a pizza after a long day at work; but they might get perturbed if they call for delivery and Eugene arrives to cut their hair instead.
Ms. Delacourt might have been onto something when she foresaw a two-for-one metaphor. In 2013, MP Calandra’s parents were described as restauranteurs, but in 2010 they were landlords in the real estate business, as well as farmers with a vegetable stand on the weekend. The Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary appeared on CPAC’s Beyond Politics and he provided an interview that conflicts with the statements in Hansard. Cached pages summarize the event as follows:
“January 3, 2010
Conservative MP Paul Calandra always wanted to be a politician, and not just any politician, but the prime minister of Canada. In 2008, Paul made his first big step towards realizing that dream when he was elected as the MP for Oak Ridges-Markham. The father of two (his youngest was born in the middle of the 2008 campaign), Paul was the youngest of four children born to Italian immigrants who settled in Toronto in the 1960s. Paul’s father was a barber who had his own salon and later moved into real estate. Paul attended Carleton University, majoring in political science before returning to Toronto and going into business for himself. Paul later worked with Ontario cabinet minister Steve Gilchrist and Prime Minister Stephen Harper before deciding to enter the political ring himself. Paul Calandra talks to Catherine Clark about his life Beyond Politics.”
CPAC migrated older programs to YouTube at a later date and the full 28 minutes can still be viewed. MP Calandra shares a sympathetic story about his dad working as a barber on the Danforth, until he could finally open a hair salon of his own (5:00). He went on to become a real estate agent and invested in multiple properties to supplement that income (5:20). Calandra says when he was young, his dad could be found painting walls and performing maintenance in his spare time (5:30).
The family also owned farm property north of Markham, Ontario (2:25). On weekends they all attended and dad would run the tractor, while the kids played and helped with labour to care for at least ten acres. The Calandras sold fresh produce and this is how they paid the farm mortgage, in addition to hairstyling and real estate that allowed them to live in town. Their time was rather busy and the only complaint this MP mentioned, is that his father was a Liberal (11:59).
Unfortunately the senior Calandra passed away when Paul was only 13 years old. He credits his mother with adapting to both parenting roles in the absence of his father (9:20) and notes the siblings pitched in to help with business (5:57). It was obviously very painful and condolences belong with the family.
But repeatedly MP Calandra refers to his father as a fixture at the hair salon. In happier memories he called the shop with election results, when Tories finally won over the Liberals (12:36). He goes on to describe his lifelong dream of becoming the Prime Minister (13:00) and the interview closes with lighthearted jokes about the instinct to hide one’s political injuries (25:45).
It’s a candid and seemingly genuine clip that doesn’t mention a word about pizza. Somewhere between 2010 and 2013, this parliamentary secretary saw his script change dramatically. Only the PMO knows for sure if they’re editing more desirable memories. A liberal hairdresser is a small business owner with similar pressures to a pizza joint and partisanship shouldn’t be able to change a Member of Parliament’s childhood. In Senator Duffy’s case the reshaping of history has a more apparent motive, but when it comes to the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, we’re left to wonder what was unacceptable with his nostalgic, original version.