Mike Duffy named The Guardian's newsmaker of the year

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 31, 2015

For years, the journalist Mike Duffy loved digging up stories that grabbed big headlines.

Duffy the Senator has also been generating loads of press, but not the sort of attention he relishes.

Lately, he is the news.

The embattled Prince Edward Island senator was in the news time and again throughout a 60-day criminal trial dealing with Duffy’s 31 counts of breach of trust, bribery and fraud.

He was the central figure of roughly 150 articles and columns that appeared in The Guardian over the past year.

No surprise, really, that he gets the nod as our 2015 Newsmaker of the Year.

He was the clear-cut choice in the newsroom here.



Wayne Thibodeau, managing editor of The Guardian, says no story captivated the interest of not only Prince Edward Island residents, but all Canadians, than the Mike Duffy trial.

Not only did the trial have a direct impact on the Island’s voice in Ottawa, it also provided Canadians with an unprecedented look inside the workings of the Senate and more importantly, the prime minister’s office, he said.

“The trial was the climax of a story The Guardian led the charge on since January 2009, when Mike Duffy was first appointed to the Senate,” Thibodeau said. “During the trial it was revealed how worried Mike Duffy and the prime minister’s office was about The Guardian’s coverage of the senator’s eligibility to represent Prince Edward Island in the Senate.”

In fact, the Ol’ Duff has earned the nod as Guardian Newsmaker of the Year for a second time, becoming only the third Islander to do so after golfer Lorie Kane (1999 and 2000) and former premier Robert Ghiz (2003 and 2007).

The Guardian named Duffy Newsmaker of 2013 as a result of the extensive media coverage of the political, public and RCMP scrutiny over 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 Nigel Wright.

This year, all the media coverage came from the courtroom as Duffy’s controversial travel claims and expenses were put under the microscope.

The senator spent the final eight days in the witness box and must now wait a couple months before learning his fate.

Duffy insisted under cross examination it was human error and Senate convention not graft or greed or desperate financial straits that lay behind the expense claims at the heart of most of the charges.

He was grilled on his per diem claims, including those filed from a holiday in Florida and a trip to B.C. for a cancelled political fundraiser that he turned into a chance to visit family.

Dan Leger, author of “Duffy: Stardom to Senate to Scandal,” is not surprised by The Guardian’s choice for Newsmaker of the Year.

When Leger was on P.E.I. earlier this year for his daughter’s wedding, everyone he met wanted to talk about the Duffy case.

“There was, I thought, a high level of interest in it,’’ he says.

“Mike Duffy, more than any other Islander, had a major impact on the news...I don’t think there is any denying he had an impact on the election,’’ said Leger, noting the trial coverage helped to bring down the Harper government.

Leger believes the Duffy scandal capativated Islanders as well as Canadians in general because he was such a well-known character being knocked down from a rather high pedestal.

“Duffy was a household name,’’ he says.

“He was known everywhere. So, he was a very high-profile individual to begin with.’’

While The Guardian felt there were no serious challengers to Duffy for our Newsmaker of the Year, there were still some names that made big headlines in 2015.

Wade MacLauchlan, the former president of UPEI, came out of retirement to give fresh leadership to the Liberal party following the surprising announcement by then Premier Robert Ghiz that he was stepping down.

MacLauchlan was uncontested in becoming the Grits’ leader and the province’s new premier on Feb. 21.

He went on to lead the Liberals to a third straight majority government in May.

Rob Lantz also made plenty of news in what proved a political rollercoaster ride for the former Charlottetown councillor.

Lantz won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. in February, but failed to win a seat in the provincial election.

After months of leading his party from outside the rail, he announced his resignation in late September.

Peter Bevan-Baker also shook up the political landscape in P.E.I. by capturing the first ever provincial seat for the Green Party.

Since his election, Bevan-Baker has earned praise for encouraging a greater spirit of co-operation among the political parties while also steering his political peers towards striking a higher level of decorum in and out of the legislature.

Sadly, a yet unidentified infant became a household name on P.E.I. in 2015.

On April 12, a custodian at the Birch Hill Free Church of Scotland found a baby in a bag near the building.

Called Baby Albion by the police, the RCMP continues to investigate the unsettling case that both horrified and captivated Islanders in 2015.