The Mike Duffy trial ended on Day 60, with the Crown relinquishing the chance to grill the senator on the $90,000 cheque at the heart of an explosive bribery charge and the defence announcing it did not have any other witnesses.
What started as a Canadian trial for the ages ended eight months later without much fanfare, as the possibility of any further political fallout disappeared when the Conservative Party lost the Oct. 19 general election. Still, the trial exposed the lax administrative rules in the Senate, and the verdict in Mr. Duffy’s case, to come next year, will have a large impact on the reputation of the Red Chamber, which continues to face calls for reform.
Judge Charles Vaillancourt called on the Crown and the defence to present written instead of oral submissions at closing arguments, expected to occur in February, pointing out that he heard the evidence in a scattered series of hearings that started last April.
Appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, Mr. Duffy left his broadcasting career to become an ardent Conservative partisan, only to turn on his political masters when his controversial expense claims caused a scandal and he was forced to leave the party’s caucus.
Charged with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery by the RCMP in 2014, Mr. Duffy vowed to expose the dark sides of the Conservative Party’s inner workings at his trial. His lawyer, Donald Bayne, was particularly incisive as he cross-examined a series of Conservative officials in the early days of the general election, about efforts to contain the political damage flowing from Mr. Duffy’s expense claims.
In his eight days of testimony in his own defence, Mr. Duffy aimed to depict himself as a well-meaning politician who simply tried to play by the existing rules of the Senate, arguing he had noble intentions as he filed all of his expense claims. In particular, Mr. Duffy insisted he faced a constitutional obligation to state his primary residence was in Prince Edward Island, the province that he represented in the Senate, which allowed him to receive housing allowances for living in his long-time Ottawa residence.
Still, Mr. Duffy frequently got testy as he answered questions from Crown prosecutor Mike Holmes during two days of cross-examination that ended on Thursday. In one heated exchange, Mr. Duffy rejected the overall sense that he was looking at his private interests as he claimed funds from his Senate budget.
“You’ve been trying to create the impression that my life was about money. My life is not about money, Mr. Holmes,” Mr. Duffy testified at his trial. “If it were about money, I would still be at CTV. My life is about trying to do the right thing, be helpful to people and make a contribution.”
Mr. Duffy, who has laid out a series of health problems at the trial, went on to slam Mr. Holmes for pointing out that there was a pumpkin-growing contest at a fair in British Columbia that Mr. Duffy had planned to attend.
“Are we into body-shaming now?” Mr. Duffy responded, before Judge Vaillancourt urged everyone to focus on the task at hand.
Mr. Holmes surprised the court when he abruptly announced he had no more questions for Mr. Duffy on Thursday afternoon, without having broached the topic of the $90,000 that Mr. Duffy received in 2013 from Nigel Wright to repay his expenses. Mr. Wright was the top aide to Mr. Harper at the time.
Mr. Bayne then said the defence had presented all of its evidence, putting an end to the hearings.
In his cross-examination, Mr. Holmes focused his questions on the expense claims related to the charges of fraud and breach of trust, including payments that were made to Mr. Duffy’s former personal trainer, Mike Croskery.
Mr. Duffy had paid for the trainer’s services out of his own pocket in 2008, before he became a senator. After his appointment, he paid Mr. Croskery out of his Senate budget, arguing that Mr. Croskery was acting as a consultant on a project to find ways to improve the fitness level of seniors across the country.
“It was not for me,” Mr. Duffy testified of his time on his exercise bike, arguing his work with Mr. Croskery in 2008 had no positive impact on his health.
Mr. Holmes also raised a series of questions about Mr. Duffy’s trip to British Columbia in 2009 to attend the Saanich Fair with former Conservative MP Gary Lunn, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $7,000. Mr. Duffy said he learned while in British Columbia that his appearance had been cancelled, but decided to stay and spend time with his family instead of incurring additional charges to change his airplane tickets and return home.
“It was nice to see my daughter’s play and it was nice to see my kids, but it wasn’t the purpose of the trip,” Mr. Duffy testified.
Mr. Duffy said he was “following orders” from the Conservative Party when he decided not to attend the fair, but could not name the person who had relayed the message.
Mr. Holmes spent a portion of the second day of his cross-examination going through a series of speeches that Mr. Duffy delivered after he was appointed to the Senate, for which he was paid a fee of $5,000 to $12,000.
In all of these cases, Mr. Duffy said he spoke broadly about “the news” and current events, arguing he wasn’t going to talk about eye surgery to a group of ophthalmologists. Overall, he said his various audiences wanted to “be entertained.”
The speeches were set up by agents, with the speaking fees going to a company called Mike Duffy Media Services.
In one case in Oct. 2010, Mr. Duffy got a speechwriter to prepare a speech for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture in Ottawa. It was a rush job as Mr. Duffy was filling in for Rex Murphy that day, and the senator only had a few moments to edit the speech, which was too long and contained a joke about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, which he cut out.
Mr. Holmes pointed to an e-mail in which Mr. Duffy congratulated writer Nils Ling for the “great speech” and asked him to send an invoice to one of his long-time friends, Gerald Donohue, who received Senate funds to pay back a number of consultants working for Mr. Duffy.
Mr. Duffy went on to post a slightly edited version of the speech on his website, which he said explains why he used taxpayer dollars to pay for Mr. Ling’s work.
“I don’t know what your legal point is, but I commissioned a speech, I got an essay, and the essay I put on the website,” Mr. Duffy told the court.
Earlier in the cross examination on Thursday, Mr. Holmes asked Mr. Duffy to confirm that the filed his taxes in Ontario. As a senator, Mr. Duffy declared that his primary residence was in his native Prince Edward Island, where he had a summer home, for the purpose of obtaining living expenses while he was in Ottawa.
Mr. Duffy testified that his accountant told him it would be “illegal” to declare himself to be a PEI resident for tax purposes, given he received most of his income for his job as a senator in Ottawa.
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 12:31PM EST
Last updated Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 8:15PM EST