OTTAWA — After months of documents, testimony and delays, the Crown prosecutors who put Sen. Mike Duffy on trial called one final high-profile witness to bolster their allegations of fraud and breach of trust against the P.E.I. senator.
The Senate’s newly named Speaker, Sen. George Furey, a lawyer and longtime Liberal, testified there was no confusion in his mind about Senate rules covering housing, travel, staffing or contracts for goods or services — all areas where Duffy is alleged to have sidestepped the rules.
The overriding principle, Furey told Justice Charles Vaillancourt, is senators are “trustees” of public funds who should spend Senate resources only “with probity and with prudence.”
Furey, a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador who was chair or deputy chair of the key executive steering committee that set or interpreted Senate rules, testified that unless senators lived more than 100 km from the national capital region “they’d have no reason to file for living expenses.”
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in connection with what the Crown says are illegitimate expense and travel claims for housing, partisan activities, and in some cases, personal matters.
During a long day in the witness box, Furey reviewed Senate policies and audits with deputy Crown attorney Mark Holmes, and even more under cross-examination by Duffy’s lawyer Don Bayne.
One by one — whether it was pre-signed travel claims, paying volunteers, or travelling on the Senate dime for partisan or personal purposes — Furey disagreed with suggestions these were normal practices or were permissible within vague Senate rules.
Asked about pre-signing blank travel forms — which a past staffer of Duffy’s testified was a practice in the Senate, Furey testified: “I would never pre-sign a document because it would be open to abuse.”
Furey said flatly “there shouldn’t be confusion between parliamentary and personal functions,” but insisted that if a senator was ever confused whether an expense was allowable or justifiable, he or she was directed to clarify with Senate administration officials or the rule-making body of the senate — the committee on internal economy, budgets and administration.
However, Furey allowed that a senator might include some personal time while travelling on parliamentary business, as long as it was not the main reason for the trip, and there were no costs billed to the Senate for it. If there were, a senator would be expected to reimburse those costs, he said.
Furey said he knows a handful of senators who live in Ottawa who don’t claim housing expenses, unlike Duffy.
Under a grilling by Bayne who suggested Furey was “offloading responsibility” onto individual senators when Senate administration officials and the internal economy committee were the ones who failed in their duty to provide adequate oversight or to set clear rules, Furey became testy.
He said while attempts were made to clarify rules, no list could be exhaustive and the Senate had to rely on the good judgment of senators.
Bayne asked icily: “And if you make a mistake in your use of your good judgment, that wouldn’t be a crime would it?”
“No,” said Furey.
“And if there’s no clear guidance, whose fault is that?” Bayne asked.
Furey suggested some things are “so simple that you don’t need guidance.
“It’s not written Mr. Bayne that I can’t hire you to mow my lawn, but I know intuitively I can’t do that. It’s not written down that I can’t raise funds for a neighbour to get him elected to a house of assembly, I know intuitively that’s not a proper use of public funds.”
Furey said any failure of Senate administrative officials to provide clear guidelines “does not exempt a senator to use his probity and prudence in the use of public funds.”
But Bayne returned to the findings of two audits, one by KPMG and one by Deloitte, that suggested the criteria for defining residency weren’t clear, and other policies were “outdated, inadequate or non-existent.”
“The finding of this audit is that you and your colleagues failed to provide clear guidelines,” said Bayne.
“In some instances, yes,” Furey conceded.
In the three years between 2010 and 2013, the court had heard Duffy spent $711,114 in Senate money, but Bayne pointed out that Furey himself had spent $747,257.
The Crown is expected to formally close its case Tuesday with an unspecified brief video to be played in court.
Bayne, who for months has promised that Duffy himself would take the witness box and contradict the versions of events related by Crown witnesses, has suddenly become coy, saying he would not reveal his defence strategy until the Crown’s case in its entirety is before the court.
The implicit suggestion is that Duffy may not be called in his own defence — which would also mean he would not be subject to a cross-examination as thorough and as detailed as that to which Bayne has subjected Crown witnesses.