OTTAWA — Sen. Mike Duffy betrayed anger and frustration Wednesday at being charged criminally for claiming living expenses, travel costs for doing partisan business, even attending funerals — exactly the sorts of things he said other senators did.
At one point, Duffy said the criminal charges for attending funerals “as a representative of the Senate” was “outrageous, isn’t it? Sorry, but I’m just so fed up with this.”
Testifying in his own defence against 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting a bribery payment to cover allegedly inappropriate expense claims, Duffy denied any wrongdoing, bad faith, or misunderstanding of vague rules
The embattled senator told the court he asked senior Conservatives including its Senate “guru” on expense matters, Sen. David Tkachuk, then deputy chair of the rules-making committee. He said he was “instructed, not encouraged” to file housing and daily meal expense claims to avoid creating “controversy” about other senators’ practices and his own constitutional eligibility for his P.E.I. seat.
Tkachuk denies counselling Duffy to interpret the rules as he claimed.
Duffy revealed a letter written by New Brunswick Sen. John Wallace, a lawyer and Conservative appointee who just stepped aside to sit as an independent, that supports his version of the rules.
Duffy said it raises the question about his being subjected to criminal investigation: “Why am I here?”
Wallace wrote to the Senate’s executive committee in early 2013 as the expenses of Duffy, Conservatives Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb were becoming a full-blown controversy for the upper chamber.
In it, Wallace scolded Senate leaders for failing to acknowledge that the “turmoil” was caused by “geography” and the rules themselves, and urged the internal economy committee and the government to simply acknowledge that reality, though it wouldn’t please the media.
Wallace, Duffy said, told the committee it should come clean if it “has now decided they want a different result, then do it and change the rules.”
Wallace’s interpretation was consistent with everything Duffy says he’d ever been told. The Crown dismissed Wallace’s letter as his opinion, saying he wasn’t qualified as an “expert.”
For most of the day, Duffy’s lawyer Don Bayne reined in Duffy’s tendency to stretch out his stories as he led the senator through residency declarations, financial declarations, his cottage renovation costs, all to set out Duffy’s overarching theme: that he’d done nothing wrong.
The housing and travel claims he filed to the Senate totalled $80,000 over six years for his longtime Kanata, Ont., home. In the end the Senate ordered him to repay the $80,000 plus interest — which led to a $90,000 tab that Stephen Harper’s former top aide, Nigel Wright gave Duffy a bank transfer to cover.
Right after Harper named Duffy as a P.E.I. senator, Duffy testified that he personally raised concerns with the PMO and Conservative Senate leadership officials because a P.E.I. professor flagged to a Charlottetown newspaper Duffy was ineligible for a PEI seat because he wasn’t a resident of the province.
Duffy testified Tkachuk told him to ignore the naysayers.
“He says ‘It’s just politics.’ He said, ‘You became a resident of Prince Edward Island on your appointment.’ He said, ‘You own property there?’ I said yes. He said, ‘You have a house there?’ I said, ‘Yes, it’s being winterized.’ ”
Tkachuk asked if he paid taxes, insurance, hydro, heating bills, and Duffy replied yes. “And he said ‘You’ve got two houses. So the housing allowance is to defray part of the cost of your second home. There’s no reason for you to be penalized — no parliamentarian — for having two homes.’”
Duffy says Tkachuk told him it was “essential” to claim all the allowances in order not to “create any light between you and any other senator who’s on travel status when they’re in Ottawa but most particularly any Prince Edward Island senator, the professor will come back and say, ‘See he is different, he’s not really from here.’
“He said, ‘It’s all within the rules, and you are expected to do that.’ I said, ‘Even when I don’t really believe in per diems — because you’ve gotta eat somewhere?’
“He said . . . to not do so could create controversy about whether or not you are truly a Prince Edward Island senator, a resident of P.E.I., you’re constitutionally qualified, you must do this.”
The Canadian Press reports Tkachuk said he never told Duffy to make expense claims to legitimize his hold on his Senate seat.
“Why would you be asking me something like this when I wasn’t even chair of internal economy,” Tkachuk said Wednesday outside the Senate chamber. “How would I have counselled?”
Duffy said it was the same message he was given by Harper when he first discussed a Senate appointment. He said the same message was reinforced by senior Senate administrative officials who never turned down or questioned his housing or travel claims despite Duffy’s “open and transparent” indications on forms that he’d owned his Ottawa area house for several years prior to appointment, or that his P.E.I. home was a “cottage.”
Duffy said it was the Senate clerk Paul Belisle who told Duffy he was entitled to claim a free “orientation” trip back to P.E.I. in December 2008 even before his appointment became official.
Duffy denied he ever profited personally from Senate resources, or directed any Senate funds to the Conservative party.
“Not a penny. I have never broken the rules let alone the law, I never received a penny from anyone ever.”