Embattled P.E.I. senator Mike Duffy named Newsmaker of 2013

Teresa Wright
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Mike Duffy

P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy’s spectacular fall from grace made him arguably one of the most infamous politicians in the country this year.

The $90,000 in expenses he claimed for his home in Ottawa with a cheque he secretly received from the prime minister’s then-chief of staff is a transaction that remains the focus of intense scrutiny, not only by the public and political opponents in the House of Commons, but also by the RCMP.

The Mounties allege Duffy committed fraud and breach of trust when he used the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright to pay for living expenses an external auditor determined were inappropriate.

The now independent senator for P.E.I. has been named The Guardian’s Newsmaker of 2013.

CLICK HERE FOR A TIMELINE OF HEADLINES INVOLVING MIKE DUFFY

“It’s not often a Prince Edward Islander is in the running for national newsmaker of the year but it was this year in the person of Mike Duffy. He wasn’t named national newsmaker but he was a serious contender,” said Guardian managing editor Gary MacDougall.

“Unfortunately, for a province that prides itself on celebrating the positive achievements of its inhabitants, Duffy’s fame in 2013 was for all the wrong reasons as he became the poster boy for the Senate scandal.

“Although the Senate scandal for the most part unfolded in Ottawa, Duffy’s involvement in it became the topic of conversation at every coffee shop and gathering spot across P.E.I. He was clearly the top newsmaker on P.E.I. And it is quite possible he would have been the top national newsmaker if not for a certain Toronto mayor.”

It all began in late 2012 when the Senate launched an audit into residency claims of all senators after questions emerged about the primary residences of Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mac Harb and Duffy.

Duffy claims his primary residence is a cottage he owns in Cavendish.

All senators were asked to provide documentation to prove they live in the province they represent, including their driver’s licence, income tax return and health card.

Duffy drew the national media eye after it was revealed he contacted Health Minister Doug Currie’s office in January, looking to get a fast tracked P.E.I. health card to provide to Senate auditors to prove he lives in P.E.I.

Questions about the legitimacy of his housing expense claims were further raised in February when The Guardian reported P.E.I.’s taxation and property division office identifies Duffy and his wife, Heather, as non-resident owners of their Cavendish cottage and thus charge them a higher non-resident property tax.

Cavendish residents told The Guardian in February they have rarely, if ever, seen him in the area. His cottage was closed up for the winter, the road on which it lies left unplowed and impassable after a February snowstorm.

He explained a few days later his Cavendish cottage appeared unused because he spends his winters in Charlottetown.

“Canadians know I’m an honest man and that I wouldn’t cheat on my expenses,” he told reporters in Charlottetown on Feb. 19.

Three days later, Duffy announced he and his wife had decided they would voluntarily pay back his expenses, to avoid letting the issue “drag on.”

But the issue continued to dog not only Duffy, but also several other senators, including Harb, Brazeau and Pamela Wallin.

The issue came to a head in May when the prime minister’s office confirmed Duffy had repaid more than $90,000 in living expenses with a personal cheque from Harper’s then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

The money was alleged to have been part of a deal to have an internal Senate report on Duffy’s expenses whitewashed to go easy on the embattled P.E.I. senator.

Wright resigned from the PMO and Duffy quit the Conservative caucus, but the Senate expense scandal continued to dominate the news and political agenda in the weeks and months that followed.

Then in June, the RCMP confirmed it had launched a criminal investigation into the $90,000 transaction between Wright and Duffy. Wright is now facing allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over the payment.

The scandal again reached an apex in the fall when the Conservative leader in the Senate, Claude Carignan, moved to have Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau suspended without pay as a result of “gross negligence” with their expenses.

Duffy made a series of dramatic speeches in the Red Chamber, alleging the PMO forced him to pay back his expenses and orchestrated a cover-up of the Wright payment.

But on Nov. 5, Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were suspended without pay by a majority of their colleagues.

Duffy has now been stripped of all but his title and health benefits as the Senate and indeed the entire country await the outcome of the criminal investigation. He is now in Ottawa, recovering from open-heart surgery.

Duffy declined an invitation to comment on this story.

In selecting the 2013 Newsmaker of the Year, The Guardian Editorial Department also considered Opposition Leader Steven Myers and his rocky road to becoming interim party leader; former PC and Opposition leader Olive Crane, who was kicked out of the Tory caucus this year; Egmont MP Gail Shea, who was shuffled back into her previous role as federal fisheries minister at a time of crisis in the industry on P.E.I.; NDP Leader Mike Redmond, who has led his party to historic highs in recent CRA polls, and Premier Robert Ghiz, who marked his 10th year in elected office in 2013.

The Guardian also considered Marlene Giersdorf, the 30-year-old Montague mother who made national news for her lone protest of the employment insurance changes that came into effect in earlier this year.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: The Guardian, RCMP, House of Commons Red Chamber The Guardian Editorial Department Tory

Geographic location: P.E.I., Ottawa, Cavendish Charlottetown Toronto

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Recent comments

  • Get Tough On Grime
    December 31, 2013 - 09:08

    What does "The System" look like? Let's put it this way, when the Duffy's of the world are in prison we'll know the system is broken. Until then, we can rest assured that "The System" is working just as it is designed to work . . .

  • Ron
    December 31, 2013 - 08:28

    Mike Redmond has my vote. It's time for a positive change!

    • Pete
      December 31, 2013 - 10:10

      Mike Redmond is a great guy, but he is a provincial politician not a federal one, so I don't see the connection that your comment has to this story.

    • don
      December 31, 2013 - 15:02

      mrs crane is the best for the job. we know she does not take the crap from the backroom boys. we need her as the next leader of PEI. mrs crane please start your own party and show the pc babies you can whip the butts of both pc and lib.

    • Ron
      December 31, 2013 - 15:22

      Mike's name is included in the second from last paragraph in this article. I thought the prospect of a competent NDP Official Opposition - and then government - would provide a positive alternative for the Island: the seeds of which have been sown in 2013!

    • Janet Sturgess
      January 01, 2014 - 01:34

      Then you don't understand the issue.

  • Mary Doyle
    December 31, 2013 - 08:14

    I hope next year there will be a story that is good and for the benefit of others that will make " Newsmaker " of the year. This story is more like " Noisemaker " of the year, albeit, Mike Duffy did expose more than himself in the scandal. Now if something " positive " comes out of it all, that will make for a " good " story. Let's hope for more honest and transparent politicians in 2014!

  • Wade VanEwyk
    December 31, 2013 - 07:41

    It's not often a prince Edward islander? He's not an islander. More like the take advantager!

    • don
      December 31, 2013 - 15:06

      sorry to tell you but you are WRONG. mike is a islander are you? he was born in ch'town 1946. so smoke on that want to be.

    • smokeonthis
      December 31, 2013 - 19:41

      Not a shock, but Don misses the point. Always laughable when someone is arrogant but they are the one missing the point. His birth certificate may say "PEI", but Duffy has long since ceased being an "Islander" in the sense that his life is here. That's where the scandal started in the first place.

  • Just A Minute.......Duffy Is A Hero for Democracy
    December 31, 2013 - 07:04

    The Duffy affair was instrumental in exposing the party politics and PMO influence over Senate and Senators to Lean on Accounting Firm. Spectacular Exposure caused by Harper trying to hang Duffy. Harper used Duff and tried to dump on him. If whatever Duffy did causes the end of Harper the Totalitarian, God Bless "Senator" Mike Duffy.

    • candrayo
      December 31, 2013 - 08:29

      Yes, let us thank one corruption for exposing another! Great idea! If only this could be a running trend! Blessing him is a bit of a stretch though!

  • jim Shaw
    December 31, 2013 - 06:57

    Poor guy needs help shoveling his driveway

  • Guy Cousineau
    December 31, 2013 - 06:31

    If we were to look for a memorable "PEI" good news story, there would be few to ponder upon this year. In bad-news-politics, the Duffy affair far outweighs all the others put together. Here is a man that I admired, along with Pamela Wallin for criticizing abuses in politics while they were with the media. Then when they joined the other side, their code of ethics seems to have gone out the window. Happy New Year Canada