Sen. Duffy: The other side of the story

If I had edited Mike Duffy’s speaking notes before his address to the Senate yesterday, I would have red-penciled the opening reference to a “heart condition” aggravated by “months of unrelenting stress,”  and to “my beloved Prince Edward Island,” along with a few adjectives  at the end (“monstrous,” “outrageous”). As John Iveson noted in the National Post, “Duffy does not cut a very sympathetic figure,” and these rhetorical flourishes don’t help. Still, it’s hard to read this and not suspect that the senator has a point, and that Prime Minister Harper has a problem. It’s long, but I urge you to click “read more” and keep reading after the jump.

Honourable Senators,

I rise today against the orders of my doctors who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress. But given the unprecedented nature of today’s proceedings, I feel I have no other choice than to come here to defend my good name.

Like you, I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong, out of a fear of losing my job, and a misguided sense of loyalty.

pullquoteMuch has been made of the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright. I hope I’ll be able to give an explanation of the chain of events, and the circumstances surrounding that gift, without impinging on the rights of others to a fair trial should criminal proceedings follow. Let me summarize it this way:

Dec. 3rd, 2012, The Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking how I could claim expenses for my house in Kanata, when I had owned the home before I was appointed to the Senate? The inference was clear. I was doing something wrong. I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and explained that I was doing nothing improper. Nigel Wright emailed me back, saying he’d had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order. That all was in compliance with Senate rules. In fact he said there were several other Senators in the same situation, and that this was a smear.

Following the PMO’s advice, I ignored the media. But the attacks from Postmedia continued, and the political heat escalated. So after caucus on Feb. 13th I met the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright. Just the three of us. I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules.

But the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.

I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the Prime Minister – to “pay the money back!” End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the 3 of us.

[Continued after the jump]

The next week, while I was at home in PEI, I had a series of discussions with Nigel Wright. I said I didn’t believe I had broken the rules, and that to repay would be an admission of guilt. Canadians know me as an honest guy. To pay back money I didn’t owe, would destroy my reputation.

The PMO piled on the pressure. Some honourable Senators called me in PEI; – one Senator, and he knows who he is, left several particularly nasty, menacing messages. Do what the Prime Minister wants! “Do it for the PM and for the good of the party.” I continued to resist. Finally the message from the PMO became “do what we want or else.”

And what was the “else?” I was told the Conservative majority on the steering committee of the Board of Internal Economy – Senators Tkachuk and Stewart-Olson, would issue a press release declaring me unqualified to sit in the Senate. However, if you do what we want, the Prime Minister will publicly confirm you are entitled to sit as a Senator from PEI, and you won’t lose your seat. Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen are ready to make that release now.

They have no power to do that!

Agree to what we want right now, or else.

I made one last effort to dissuade the PMO and save my good name. I don’t believe I owe anything, and besides which I don’t have $90,000! Don’t worry, Nigel said, I will write the cheque.

Let the lawyers handle the details, you just follow the plan, and we’ll keep Carolyn Stewart-Olson and David Tkachuk at bay. There were elaborate undertakings which were negotiated among the several lawyers involved who were taking instructions from their clients. Lawyers for the PMO, for the Conservative Party and me.

Pullquote2There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte – that I would get a pass; and further that if this phoney scheme ever became public, Senator LeBreton, the government leader of the day would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber.

PMO officials said it wasn’t easy to get this commitment from Senators LeBreton, Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen. The e-mail chain shows it took hours of shuttling back and forth as the lawyers checked with their principals about the guarantees they would give to ensure I wasn’t censured for going along with this PMO scheme.

Given all of these emails you can imagine my shock when I heard there was not a single document about these negotiations to be found in the PMO. That’s right; in response to an Access to Information request, CBC was told there is not a single document in the PMO related to this matter. Well, if they’re not in the PMO, they are in the hands of my lawyers, and apparently in the hands of police.

Why not release these documents now? Because the people involved have rights, which under our system must be protected.

Are the police looking at possible criminal charges? Bribery, threats and extortion of a sitting legislator? This is serious stuff and the people who were involved – more than those mentioned here today, deserve to have their rights protected. It’s the Canadian way. It will all come out in due course, when all of the players are under oath and the email chain can be seen in its entirety.

In the interim, Deloitte reported to the Board of Internal Economy. After combing my living expense claims, my travel claims, Senate air travel, my cell phone records and Senate Amex; Deloitte found I had not violated the Senate rules.

Then in May, after someone leaked selected excerpts of a confidential email I had sent to my lawyer voicing my concern about the deal, the PMO was back with a vengeance. I was called at home in Cavendish by Ray Novak, senior aide to Prime Minister Harper. He had with him Senator LeBreton, Leader of the Government in the Senate. Senator LeBreton was emphatic. The deal was off. If I didn’t resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes, I would be thrown out of the caucus immediately. Without a meeting – without a vote. In addition she said if I didn’t quit the caucus immediately, I would be sent to the ethics committee with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate.

With Ray Novak and my wife and sister listening, Senator LeBreton was insistent “You’ve got to do this Mike, do what I’m telling you, quit the caucus within the next 90 minutes! It is the only way to save your pay cheque.”

I understand that caucus disputes are internal, and not a matter for the Senate. However when one’s status as a Senator is repeatedly threatened, I believe this amounts to an attack on my independence as a Senator, and is criminal, or at the very least a serious violation of my privileges.

Colleagues, like you, this kind of politics is NOT why I came to the Senate of Canada. It is not millions of Canadians vote for the Conservative Party. I came here to build a better country; to use my experience as a journalist to help build a better PEI. I want to continue my hard work for the Island, and I can only do that if you follow due process.

Honourable Senators, this particular motion, should it pass, will be a serious violation of my human rights – including the most fundamental right of all – to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That’s a basic right in our democracy – in the words of the Bill of Rights Act of 1960, one of great Tory accomplishments in my lifetime, and in my view, John Diefenbaker’s most important legacy, we are all entitled to “Fundamental Justice.” This motion is in direct conflict with any sense of “fundamental justice.” I remind honourable Senators, that right to fundamental justice was further enshrined in Mr. Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

I have done nothing wrong, violated no laws, and worked very hard to fulfil my duties as a Senator from my beloved Prince Edward Island. Let me repeat: Deloitte investigated. And their audit of expenses related to my home on PEI, did not find wrongdoing. They said I had not broken Senate rules. It was the 15 members of the Senate’s Board of Internal Economy who refused to accept the determination of the independent auditors at Deloitte. Why, I still don’t understand. And those same Senators sit in judgement of me today?

Let me be clear: I violated no laws, I followed rules as they then were. And I never received a single note from Senate Finance or the leadership that suggested there was anything amiss. Serving in this Chamber has been, I repeat, the greatest public/professional honour I have ever had – why would I want to subvert it or discredit in any way? I did not and I do not.

Needless to say, I agree strongly with the remarks made on the weekend by Senator Segal—this motion is something one might expect to see in Iraq, or Iran or in Vladimir Putin’s Russia – not in democratic Canada. It is not, I repeat, It is not fundamental justice. Mr. Diefenbaker, and Mr. Trudeau, were they here today, would be mortified.

I urge you to defeat these motions and preserve our democratic, free and just Canada.

Hon. senators, my friends and especially my former colleagues; today you are facing the same choice I did back in February. Be a team player and go along with the PMO and the senate leadership? Or stand up, and do your constitutional duty. I fervently wish I had had the courage to say NO back in February when this monstrous political stunt was first proposed.

Today you have an opportunity to stand strong, and use your power to restrain the unaccountable power of the PMO. I urge you to say no to these outrageous motions. Tell the whips, my oath as a Senator is to put Canada first, and that comes before my loyalty to my party or leader. Canadians are watching.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.