RCMP surprise many with 31 charges laid against P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy
Shocking. Unbelievable. Incredulous. These are some of the adjectives being used to describe the sheer volume of criminal charges laid against suspended P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy on Thursday.
As transfixed Islanders watched a high noon — local time — news conference, Ottawa RCMP stunned most of the country, and probably Mr. Duffy most of all, by announcing they laid 31 charges involving fraud, breach of trust and bribery against our senator.
It was a shocker.
Through his lawyer, Mr. Duffy said he was looking forward to his day in court to clear his name because he feels he was lynched in the court of public opinion by both media and fellow senators ever since this whole affair first started innocently enough in June 2012.
That was when Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a study of Senate expense claims. It all snowballed from there.
What got Mr. Duffy in trouble was claiming that his primary residence was a Cavendish cottage and not his house in Ottawa where he had lived for many years. That brought into question his travel and housing expense claims, and finally his qualifications to serve as senator from this province.
Then came the famous and confusing $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, former chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to enable Sen. Duffy to pay back questionable expense claims.
The 31 charges involve Sen. Duffy’s claims for living expenses, claims for travel expenses unconnected with Senate business and fraudulent contracts.
Altogether, the charges cover more than $200,000 in phoney expenses.
The bribery charge covers the $90,000 payment from Mr. Wright. In public comments in the Senate and though his lawyer, Sen. Duffy said he was following orders to go along with the repayment plan concocted inside the PMO.
So there was considerable surprise this past April when the RCMP announced there was no basis for charges and they were closing their investigation on Mr. Wright. The reasons were never fully explained.
There is still confusion or a double standard in play. Either police think Mr. Duffy brought pressure to bear to extort the $90,000; or they think it’s OK to offer and pay a bribe but illegal to accept one. Something is very wrong here.
Few people saw this coming as Mr. Duffy said all along that he was following a PMO script. How did Mr. Wright transform from a wealthy, philanthropic benefactor into a hapless victim?
Now things get really interesting. Should Mr. Duffy fight the charges, and he has given every indication he will, it’s certain that Mr. Wright and other former or current staffers inside the PMO, will be called to testify. If the Crown doesn’t call Mr. Wright, you can be certain that Mr. Duffy will.
Mr. Duffy has been summoned to appear in court Sept. 16. Court proceedings are sure to drag out this fall and well into next year, directly opposite a federal election campaign — a horror story the PM thought he had successfully averted by ordering the Conservative majority in the Senate to suspend senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
The Senate expenses scandal had quickly fizzled after the three were suspended and sent packing in disgrace last November.
Now a major court case and legal manoeuvrings will re-open files the government would prefer to see remain buried. It will bring into focus questions about the PM’s judgment in appointing a senator with dubious qualifications to represent this province.
It will refocus public attention on the government’s failed attempts to reform the Senate and the appointment of dozens of Conservatives to the upper chamber by Mr. Harper.
If the CBC is looking for a juicy Canadian drama to roll out for the fall television schedule, here is a soap opera capable of challenging Game of Thrones.