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Senator Mike Duffy put on quite a show in the Senate on Tuesday, late in the afternoon.
The long-time broadcaster and consummate communicator started, disarmingly, by saying:
“I rise here today against the orders of my doctors, who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress.”
He then enunciated the theme of his defence:
“Like you,” Duffy told his colleagues, “I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong out of a fear of losing my job and out of a misguided sense of loyalty.”
He then got right to the point. He gave his version of the way the story of his expenses unfolded.
“On December 3, 2012, the Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking, how could I claim expenses for my house in Kanata when I had owned the home there before I was appointed to the Senate?” Duffy said, and then added, quite bluntly: “The inference was clear — I was doing something wrong.”
The Senator knew what to do. Contact the office of the boss.
“I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, and explained that I was doing nothing improper,” Duffy recounted. “Wright emailed me back, saying he had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order…Wright said the [Citizen] story is a smear.”
“Following the PMO’s advice,” Duffy continued, putting the Prime Minister right in the middle of the action, “I ignored the media, but the attacks from Postmedia continued and the political heat escalated. So after caucus on February 13 of this year, I met the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright, just the three of us. I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules.”
It turns out the Prime Minister was not really interested in the rules. He was worried about politics and perceptions.
“The Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth,” Duffy said, ruefully. “‘It’s not about what you did [the PM said]. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base…'”
Duffy went on.
“I was ordered by the Prime Minister: ‘Pay the money back, end of discussion.’ Nigel Wright was present throughout, just the three of us.”
There you have it.
According to the Senator from P.E.I., the Prime Minister played a key part in the Duffy strategy, almost from the outset.
Duffy tried to resist, since paying back money he did not believe he owed would, in his mind, “destroy” his reputation.
But the Prime Minister did not relent.
“The PMO piled on the pressure,” Duffy complained. “Some honourable senators called me in P.E.I. One senator in particular left several particularly nasty and menacing messages: Do what the Prime Minister wants. Do it for the PM and for the good of the party. I continued to resist. Finally, the message from the PMO became: ‘Do what we want or else.'”
And here we get to what Duffy considered to be the mailed fist tactics — the open threats.
“And what was the ‘else?,'” Duffy asked his colleagues, rhetorically.
The Senator’s answer implicated a number of senior Conservatives: “The Conservative majority on the steering committee of the Board of Internal Economy, Senator Tkachuk and Senator Stewart Olsen, would issue a press release declaring me unqualified to sit in the Senate.”
‘Don’t worry,’ Nigel said, ‘I’ll write the cheque.’
There was, of course, a carrot as well as a stick.
Duffy told his colleagues exactly what he was promised, in exchange for his cooperation.
“The Prime Minister will publicly confirm that you’re entitled to sit as a senator from P.E.I. and you won’t lose your seat,” he said. “Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen are ready to make that press release now.”
That did not impress the man from Prince Edward Island.
He told his fellow Senators his answer to this offer from the Prime Minister’s main man: “I said: They don’t have the power to do that. He said: ‘Agree to what we want right now or else.'”
Duffy still persevered. Here’s how he put it:
“I made one last effort. I said: I don’t believe I owe anything, and besides which, I don’t have $90,000. ‘Don’t worry,’ Nigel said, ‘I’ll write the cheque. Let the lawyers handle the details; you just follow the plan and we’ll keep Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk at bay.'”
Then Duffy went on to directly contradict the Prime Minister’s claim that Nigel Wright acted entirely on his own on the notorious $90,000 payment, and that nobody else in the Prime Minister’s Office or the government was involved.
“There were elaborate undertakings negotiated among the several lawyers involved in this,” Duffy said. “They were taking instructions from their clients: at least two lawyers from the PMO, one I know of from the Conservative Party and my own lawyer. There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte, that I’d be given a pass; and further, that if this phony scheme ever became public, Senator LeBreton, the Leader of the Government of the day, would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber.”
This, then, is how Duffy described the multiple participants in the deal Stephen Harper wants Canadians to believe was entirely the misguided, private and personal initiative of Nigel Wright!
Somebody’s not telling the truth here — you be the judge.
‘Bribery, threats and extortion of a sitting legislator’
But there’s even more.
Duffy told his colleagues about the paper trail — or at least electronic, e-mail trail — that backs up his version of events
“PMO officials confided it wasn’t easy to get this commitment to do as they were told from Senators LeBreton, Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen,” Duffy explained. “The email chain shows it took hours of shuttling back and forth as the lawyers checked with their principals about the guarantees they were going to give to ensure that I wasn’t censured for going along with this PMO scheme.”
In case he had not gone far enough, Duffy then evoked the possibility of a conspiracy and cover-up on a near Nixonian scale.
“Given all of those emails, you can imagine my shock when I heard there’s not a single document about all of this in the PMO, not one,” Duffy exclaimed. “In response to an access to information request, CBC was told there’s not one single document related to this matter in the PMO.”
Too bad for the PMO that there are two sides to e-mail communication.
Mike Duffy was careful, he told his colleagues, to meticulously preserve his records of communications with the PMO.
“If they [the emails] are not in the PMO, they’re in the hands of my lawyers and I suspect in the hands of the RCMP,” Duffy said, pointedly.
He then explained why these emails have not yet been made public:
“Why don’t I release those documents now? Because the people involved have rights, which, under our system, must be protected…This is serious stuff, and the people who were involved — and there’s more than those I’ve mentioned here today — deserve to have their rights protected…It will all come out in due course when all of the players are under oath and the email chain can be seen in its entirety.”
Despite this arrangement, Duffy said, he had to submit to the investigation of the outside auditor, Deloitte and Touche. But he was told by the PMO and the Party leadership that he did not have to fully cooperate.
“When Deloitte wanted to see everything, including my wife’s bank account,” Duffy related, “I was told in the Reading Room in the back: They’ve got all they need. It doesn’t matter. Don’t bother.”
In any case, Deloitte, according to Duffy, exonerated him.
“After combing my living expense claims, my travel claims, Senate air travel, my cell phone records and Senate AMEX,” Duffy told the Senate, “Deloitte found that I had not violated the Senate rules.”
Resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes or be thrown out immediately
That was not, however, the end for Duffy, far from it. In fact, as he related to his fellow Senators on Tuesday, the PMO still had plenty of venom for him.
“In May, after someone leaked selected excerpts of a confidential email I had sent to my lawyer in February, in which I voiced my opposition and concern about the deal, the PMO was back with a vengeance,” Duffy recalled, “I was called at home in Cavendish by Ray Novak, senior assistant to the Prime Minister [now the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff]. He had with him Senator LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator LeBreton was emphatic: The deal was off. If I didn’t resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes, I’d be thrown out of the caucus immediately, without a meeting, without a vote. In addition, she said, if I didn’t quit the caucus immediately, I’d be sent to the Senate Ethics Committee, with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate.”
And finally, Duffy concluded: “When one’s status as a senator is repeatedly threatened, I believe this amounts to an attack on my independence as a senator and is criminal, or at the very least, a serious violation of my privileges.”
The Prime Minister has made a point, over the past few days, of talking about the spirit of the rules and laws as well as their letter, when referring to the obligations of MPs and Senators.
Perhaps he and his colleagues will still argue that there is nothing new in what Duffy said on Tuesday.
And, perhaps, some will have the temerity to suggest that there is, as yet, nothing to prove that the Prime Minister knew about the now-infamous $90,000 payment, and so we cannot (yet) say the Prime Minister has played fast and lose with the truth in his answers in the House.
Well, if the Prime Minister has not yet been proven to have crossed a legal line, if he has not been shown to have defied the letter of the rules — and that is far from certain at this point — it seems (if we believe Duffy) that Stephen Harper has certainly left the spirit of those rules in tatters.