Daniel Leblanc sums up the trial to date of Senator Mike Duffy, which made headlines throughout the summer months. Mr. Leblanc cites polls that show the effect the trial has had to date on voter intentions relative to the federal election.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What, in general, has happened to date in the trial of Senator Mike Duffy and how might it affect the way voters vote in the October election?

New Terminology:

Dogged, fraud, breach of trust, bribery, auditor, impugned

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

[NOTE: If you would prefer to do a lesson that deals with the specifics of the Senator Mike Duffy trial, you will find a full lesson on the subject in the May, 2015, issue of the Classroom Edition]

While many Canadians—and most students—were enjoying their summer holidays, politicians and the media were focused on the trial of Senator Mike Duffy in Ottawa, which is now in hiatus, to continue in November. Mr. Duffy faces several charges, but the trial this summer was largely centred on the charge of bribery, based on PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright’s personal $90,000 payment to cover Duffy’s allegedly invalid Senate expense claims.

Although little has been resolved about the case to date, media coverage of the trial during the early stages of the federal election campaign was embarrassing for the governing Conservatives, who came to power promising a more transparent and ethical style of government. During the trial, Conservative leader Stephen Harper had difficulty staying focused on his platform announcements because he was continually bombarded with questions from the media about the trial.

The following lesson helps students to learn more about the trial, the PMO and the possible effects of it all on the way voters may vote in October.  Working in groups, they will discuss and explain excerpts from Mr. Leblanc’s article before providing an oral report of their work at the end of class.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a brief discussion about the Senator Mike Duffy trial. Find out who watched it, if anyone, what they thought of it and if they were aware that this was unfolding during the election campaign.

Provide students with a copy of the article by Daniel Leblanc along with the following worksheet.


Choose a group leader who will also take notes as you progress through the worksheet. First, have the leader read the article aloud to your group. Ask everyone to take note of any terms or words that they do not know or understand. All should feel free to use the Internet to find answers to questions, but they must note the sources they are using and record these to provide them to the teacher.

Next, complete the tasks listed under each of the excerpts, below:

The Crown has finished calling witnesses who worked in the Prime Minister’s Office

Harper’s party will feel relief that the daily drip of stories about cover-up and calculation inside the PMO will no longer dog their daily events.

  • What daily events would these be? Why are they important?

A recent Nanos Research poll of 1,000 Canadians…

  • Regarding this poll: Why do you think 55.3 per cent of those polled may have “a more negative view of the government” because of the trial?
  • How accurate/inaccurate might the Nanos poll be one time out of 20?

…of the Senator’s questionable housing expenses

  • Why were these expenses questionable?

Former PMO legal counsel Ben Perrin also testified in detail that Mr. Harper’s current chief of staff, Ray Novak, heard twice of Mr. Wright’s plan to pick up the tab – despite repeated denials from Conservative officials that Mr. Novak knew of the deal.

  • What significance do you think this evidence might have relative to the election?
  • Why would it matter whether Mr. Novak knew about the deal or not?

The last former Conservative staffer to appear at the trial was Chris Woodcock, who had been director of issues management in the PMO.

  • What kind of issues do you think Mr. Woodcock was supposed to manage while he was working for the PMO?
  • Why would this kind of job exist, do you think?

When he spoke to RCMP investigators some months ago, Mr. Woodcock acknowledged that the PMO wanted to “force,” “convince” and “persuade” Mr. Duffy to repay his expenses in February, 2013, the court was told.

  • How could this statement affect the charge of bribery against Mr. Duffy, do you think?

Next, ask students for words or phrases they had not understood. See if any remained unclear and if so, discuss them in your group and use the Internet to clarify them.

Be prepared to report orally to the class.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students are able to explain the significance of the Senator Mike Duffy trial to the ongoing election campaigns.

Confirming Activity:

  • Consider asking students to note any references to the trial during the balance of the election campaign and what effect this seems to have on the various parties’ campaigns.