New book chronicles rise and fall of Mike Duffy

Teresa Wright
Published on March 19, 2014

Author Dan Leger says the Mike Duffy story is a compelling one because it echoes the age-old tale of someone who flew too close to the son.

©Heather Taweel

P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy’s rise and fall, from ambitious local reporter to broadcast celebrity; from senator to political pariah, is now chronicled in a new book.

“Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal” by retired newspaper editor and former Parliament Hill reporter Dan Leger was released earlier this month from Nimbus Publishing.

It tells the story of Duffy’s life from the time he was born in Charlottetown in the 1940s to the day he was unceremoniously suspended from the Red Chamber last fall amid a national scandal surrounding his housing expenses.

Leger says Duffy’s story is compelling because it is echoes the age-old tale of the man who flew too close to the sun.

“I think Duffy fell victim to the celebrity trap of believing in his own baloney,” Leger said in an interview with The Guardian. He was in the city for a recent book launching.

“I think he actually started to believe this legend that he had created around himself as Parliament Hill’s man in-the-know and the ultimate insider… It’s hubris and nemesis and I think that’s a lot of this story.”

The book includes new details of Duffy’s early life and his rise to media stardom at the CBC and later with CTV.

It follows his appointment to the Senate and his overnight transformation from impartial broadcaster into an intensely partisan Conservative senator — one who not only worked the fundraising circuit for the party but also assumed the role of attack dog against political rivals.

The book then weaves through the details of the scandal that erupted over Duffy’s housing expense claims last year and the $90,000 payment he received from the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Leger interviewed over 30 people for the book, and even had a rare off-the-record conversation with Duffy himself.

On the back deck of his cottage in Cavendish, Duffy told Leger he felt he was being thrown under the bus by the PMO.

“He set out the arguments that he would make later in the Senate, that it was a set-up, that he was the fall guy, that he played within the rules as he understood them and that he became a political liability for Stephen Harper and that’s why he was kicked to the roadside,” Leger said, recalling his conversation with Duffy last August.

“I think he’s devastated by what happened. I think he’s very worried. And I also sensed a certain amount of defiance, which I think came out in the Senate.”

Leger says writing the book was challenging, as many events were still unfolding as he was writing, and the story has yet to be resolved. He also says it was an eye-opening experience, learning how cutthroat, ambitious and resentful the world of politics can be for operatives on the inside.

But since Duffy was never truly member of the insiders’ club, when the stakes were raised with the fate of a government was potentially on the line, he became a liability.

“He didn’t have the connections to sustain him when he had outlived his usefulness. His celebrity did him no good — he was just a bigger target,” Leger writes in his book.

“After 40-plus years as the self-described insider, Mike Duffy has come full circle: on the outside looking in, and much the worse for wear.”