Duffy: The chronicle of a tragedy

Published on March 1, 2014

Mike Duffy

For the nearly 40 years that he plied his trade as a journalist on Parliament Hill, with his avuncular demeanour, his friendly handshake and his confident, welcoming smile, Mike Duffy was the picture of a man happy in his work.

In the picture that graces the cover of Dan Leger’s new book, Duffy. Stardom to Senator to Scandal, Mike Duffy looks anything but confident. There are bags under his eyes, his mouth is half open — he looks wary and anxious.

When you finish the book (which is scheduled to be released in the two weeks), you realize, if you didn’t already know, Mike Duffy has much to be anxious about.

Dan Leger is now a columnist with The Chronicle-Herald in Halifax. In 1984 he went to Parliament Hill as a reporter with the Canadian Press wire service. As a neophyte, he was welcomed to the Hill by a veteran, television reporter, Mike Duffy. Who, as a fellow Maritimer, took him in hand and showed him the ropes.

After six years, Dan Leger returned to the Maritimes where he watched from afar as Mike Duffy’s star rose ever higher in the journalistic firmament. He saw “the Old Duff” going from CBC reporter to host of a news show with CTV’s Ottawa affiliate CJOH. Then hosting of a daily political show carried across the country on the CTV network, and to top it all off was the appointment to the Senate.

The book looks at Mike Duffy’s early years on the Island and in Nova Scotia. His transition to the big leagues through Montreal and a local radio station in Ottawa, before finally landing his dream job as a reporter on Parliament Hill.

Mr. Leger claims that Mike Duffy’s success wasn’t built on a reputation of being a great investigative journalist, poring through reams of documents. No, Mike Duffy’s success was premised on his ability to get to know people. Getting to know people with connections. Mike Duffy styled himself as “the Old Duff”. And he portrayed “the Old Duff” as the consummate insider, the man who knew everyone there was worth knowing.

Dan Leger, and others, saw Mike Duffy going from a good reporter using his sources to get information, to a guy being used by his sources to get their story out. In the book he casts some doubt on Duffy’s report of the iconic story of the “kitchen cabinet” where Jean Chretien, Roy McMurtry of Ontario and Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan cobbled together the deal that enabled then prime minister Pierre Trudeau to repatriate the constitution. Mr. Leger says there was another side to this story that Mike Duffy either didn’t know, or didn’t bother to tell.

The book is also critical of the way Mike Duffy handled the tape of an interview then Liberal leader Stephen Dion did in the dying days of the 2008 federal election. Not understanding the rather convoluted question from a Halifax interviewer, Mr. Dion asked three times to re-start the interview. Mr. Leger devotes a whole chapter to this and has printed the transcript of the original interview, and how Mike Duffy dealt with it on his national political show. The chapter on the Dion tape suggests that the incident was instrumental in Mike Duffy getting his Senate appointment.

Most of the book is about Mike Duffy’s time in the Senate. His conversion from a journalist to a rabid partisan and the scandal that ensued over his billing the Senate for expenses while living in his Ottawa home, expenses while on the campaign trail for the Conservative Party and for contracts given to former colleagues.

While the book focuses on Mike Duffy, it doesn’t ignore his colleagues in the scandal, senators Wallin, Brazeau and Harb. There are some minor errors, for instance Mr. Leger says Pat Binns is a senator when in fact he’s a diplomat. For anyone who has been following the continuing saga of the Senate Scandal, much of the book will not be new, but its value is that it gathers together, in one easy-to-read compendium, all of the many facts that have dribbled out, piece meal fashion, over the past 18 months.

Mr. Leger writes he started the book in the spring, “as the rot was ripening”. The rot continues to ripen. Senators Brazeau and Harb have been charged and it’s likely so will Senators Duffy and Wallin. But, this will only mark the end of the beginning. The court cases will be another chapter in this on-going saga.

Alan Holman is a freelance journalist living in Charlottetown. He can be reached at: acholman@pei.eastlink.ca