Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Take on Duffy

People have been asking for my take on Duffy, so here goes: I called it from Day 1. I did the same analysis of the housing "scandal" for Glen McGregor before he wrote his story as the judge did in the decision. And I always saw the expenses as an administration issue: an employer weighs the claim against the expense policy of the enterprise, not what the rest of the world thinks. Was the Senate perktastic, with Hon. Members living in a world divorced from the reality the rest of us face when dealing with employment expenses? Yes. And it should be fixed, with the caveat that senators should be out on the road interacting with Canadians, representing the Government of Canada at things like funerals which, at first glance, don't seem like government business, and seeing what's going on in the rest of the country.
Was Duffy caught up in a sleazy, ham-fisted cover-up run out of Harper's PMO? Yes. And, as Judge Vaillancourt noted, he was under intense pressure from the highest ranks of the Prime Minister's Office and the Conservative Senate caucus to do so. Keep in mind, too, that all the while Duffy insisted his housing expenses were right in the first place.
Should Duffy have been appointed to the Senate to "represent" PEI, even though he had lived in Ottawa for years? That's a tough one. Many people had been in the same situation before, people like Joyce Fairbarn, a former Southam News reporter who worked as press secretary to Pierre Trudeau before being appointed to the Senate to "represent" Alberta. (Senators don't represent anyone or any place. They never have to take a call from a "constituent" and can vote a law in a way utterly contrary to the interests of their province, and contrary to overwhelming public opinion. It is only by the generosity of a senator that he/she even bothers to visit their "home" province at all and interact with the people there. Does this stink? Yes. But it is how it is, and it wasn't Duffy's fault.)
I like Mike Duffy. I know his faults. He is far from being an evil man, and nowhere near a criminal. A lot of media wanted to take him down, and they really thought they had him. The more closely people followed the trial in the media, the more sure they were of conviction. I watched it as someone who studied criminal law and I knew on the second or third day that the Crown had lost the case. Sometimes they were calling witness after witness to try to plug a single hole -- the dog show in Peterborough comes to mind -- and the hole would only get bigger. This was a true show trial, complete with a press release with the assistant commissioner of the RCMP's picture on it when the charges were laid. Judge Vaillancourt wrote a decision that should be read carefully by everyone who covered the Duffy case and anyone who wants to understand Stephen Harper's Ottawa.

I have been his friend for 20 years. Before he started in the Senate, I helped him fight of Internet trolling and I kept doing that when he was appointed. Eventually, he sent me a token payment, something the judge took pains to say was warranted, and was good value for public money. I am glad to see him acquitted. I hope he goes back to the Senate and embraces the one good thing it does: scrutinizing legislation.
And I hope the media, which has come as close as possible -- as I told them in a scrum outside the courthouse in the early day of the trial to much eye-rolling from reporters who were sure he was going to jail -- to killing Duffy, now leave him alone.

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