by: Obert Madondo
In a speech delivered to the Senate Tuesday, Sen. Mike Duffy revealed that PM Stephen Harper told him to repay the $90 000 he fraudulently claimed from the Red Chamber. He claimed that he met Harper and his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who eventually paid off the expenses. Turns out “the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth.”
The beleaguered senator, appointed by Harper in 2009, also claims he was “intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong out of a fear of losing my job and out of a misguided sense of loyalty.”
Here’s the full transcript of Duffy’s speech:
Thank you, honourable senators. I want to speak in support of this motion because I believe, after the excellent speech we heard from the leader of the Opposition here in the Senate, that there are a lot of questions that need answers. And while some might argue that having the proceedings before a judge and under oath might be absolutely preferable, given the size of the issue we’re dealing with, any move towards allowing senators to have their say before they’re shipped off I think is a great move and I support it.
I rise here 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 and 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 out of a misguided sense of loyalty.
Much 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 impugning the rights of others to a fair trial, should criminal proceedings follow.
Let me summarize it this way: On Dec. 3, 2012, the Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking, how could I claim expenses for my house in Kanata when I had owned the home there 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 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. This was in December 2012. Mr. Wright said: The story is 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. 13 of this year, 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 in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base. I argued: I’m just following the rules like all of the others. But it didn’t work. I was ordered by the prime minister: Pay the money back, end of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout, just the three of us.
The next week, while I was at home in P.E.I., I had a series of discussions on the phone with Nigel Wright. I said I didn’t believe I’d 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 P.E.I. One senator in particular left several particularly nasty and 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”? He said the Conservative majority on the steering committee of the Board of Internal Economy, Sen. Tkachuk and Sen. Stewart Olsen, 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 that you’re entitled to sit as a senator from P.E.I. and you won’t lose your seat. Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen are ready to make that press release now. I said: They don’t have the power to do that. He said: Agree to what we want right now or else.
I made one last effort. I said: I don’t believe I owe anything, and besides which, I don’t have $90,000. Don’t worry, Nigel said, I’ll write the cheque. Let the lawyers handle the details; you just follow the plan and we’ll keep Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk at bay.
There were elaborate undertakings negotiated among the several lawyers involved in this. They were taking instructions from their clients: at least two lawyers from the PMO, one I know of from the Conservative party and my own lawyer. There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte, that I’d be given a pass; and further, that if this phoney scheme ever became public, Sen. LeBreton, the leader of the government of the day, would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber.
PMO officials confided it wasn’t easy to get this commitment to do as they were told from senators LeBreton, Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen, but the email chain shows it took hours of shuttling back and forth as the lawyers checked with their principals about the guarantees they were going to give to ensure that I wasn’t censured for going along with this PMO scheme.
Given all of those emails, you can imagine my shock when I heard there’s not a single document about all of this in the PMO, not one. In response to an access-to-information request, CBC was told there’s not one single document related to this matter in the PMO.
Well, if they’re not in the PMO, they’re in the hands of my lawyers and I suspect in the hands of the RCMP. Why don’t I release those documents now? Because the people involved have rights, which under our system, must be protected. Are the police looking at possible criminal charges? Are they wondering about bribery, threats and extortion of a sitting legislator? This is serious stuff, and the people who were involved and there’s more than those I’ve 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.
While all of this was going on in the interim, despite the big agreement, I was sent off to Deloitte, not by the Board of Internal Economy but by the special select subcommittee. Not Sen. Marshall’s group, no, no. I wasn’t sent there. I was sent straight off to Deloitte by senators Stewart Olsen, Tkachuk and Furey — straight to Deloitte.
And then, when Deloitte wanted to see everything including my wife’s bank account, I was told in the reading room in the back: They’ve got all they need. It doesn’t matter. Don’t bother.
After combing my living expense claims, my travel claims, Senate air travel, my cell phone records and Senate AMEX, Deloitte found that 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 in February, in which I voiced my opposition and concern about the deal, the PMO was back with a vengeance. I was called at home in Cavendish by Ray Novak, senior assistant to the prime minister. He had with him Sen. LeBreton, leader of the government in the Senate. Sen. LeBreton was emphatic: The deal was off. If I didn’t resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes, I’d 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’d be sent to the Senate ethics committee, with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate.
With Ray Novak, my wife and my sister listening in on the call, Sen. 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’s the only way to save your paycheque, quote.
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’s not why millions of Canadians voted for the Conservative party. It’s not the Canadian way.
I came here to build a better country, to use my experience as a journalist to help build a better Prince Edward Island. 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, would 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 the 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 put forward by Sen. Carignan is in direct conflict with any sense of fundamental justice. Not only is it a firing without a firing, as Sen. Segal has correctly pointed out, it deprives me not only of a paycheque but of a health plan, of life insurance.
This, a guy who came back off sick leave because of a serious heart problem, who’s going to buy the heart drugs I need? What kind of a country do we have when the power can override the sick leave provisions of the federal government of Canada health care act or arrangement.
I’ve got a certificate at home that says I’m a member of the government health plan. Well, guess what? Sen. Carignan has the power to tear it up. It doesn’t matter I gave up a life insurance plan because I had government insurance under the Senate. What, that’s all going to be gone in the twinkling of an eye because of a conspiracy?
Let me repeat, Deloitte investigated, their audit of my expenses related to my home in P.E.I. did not find wrongdoing and they said I had not broken the Senate’s rules. It was the 15 members of the Senate board of internal economy who refused to accept the determination of the independent auditor at Deloitte. Why? I still don’t understand.
And those same senators who conspired to put me in this corner, conspired to destroy my reputation with Canadians, they are going to sit here in judgment of me?
Let me be clear. I’ve violated no laws, I’ve followed the rules and I’ve got a ton of documentation, including a memo, a two-page memo from Sen. LeBreton’s office about it, and I never received a single note from Senate finance or the leadership that suggested anything in my travels was amiss.
In fact, those on the other side will remember how often I was lauded by the prime minister in a weekly meeting for all of the travelling I was doing and all of the assistance I was providing Sen. Gerstein, who has been an honourable man throughout this sad affair.
Serving in this chamber has been, I’ll repeat, the greatest public or professional honour I’ve ever had. Why would I want to subvert it or discredit it in any way? I did not and I do not.
Needless to say, I strongly agree with the remarks made on the weekend by Sen. Segal. This motion is something one might expect to see in Iraq or Iran or Vladimir Putin’s Russia but not in democratic Canada. It is not, I repeat, fundamental justice. Mr. Diefenbaker and Mr. Trudeau, were they here today, would be mortified.
I urge you to defeat these motions or at very least vote in favour of Sen. Cowan’s motion to refer so that people can have their day in court.
Honourable senators and my friends, especially my colleagues on the other side, today you are facing what I faced in February: Be a team player and go along with the PMO and Senate leadership or stand up and do your constitutional duty. I wish I’d had the courage to say No back in February when this monstrous political scheme was first ordered.
Today, you have an opportunity to stand strong and use your power to restrain the unaccountable power of the PMO. That’s what this Senate’s about — sober second thought, not taking dictation from kids in short pants down the hall.
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 any party or any leader.’
Senators, Canadians are watching. Thank you.