Thursday, May 16, 2013

Duffy Is The Canary In The Corruption Coal Mine

The story swirling around Mike Duffy changes faster than the Tory spin machine can keep up with.  A few days ago, Duffy had allegedly repaid the $90K in ineligible expenses.  Then yesterday it comes out that he hadn't actually repaid them himself, but rather someone in the PMO had handed Duffy a cheque for $90K.

But, let's dial back a ways to the beginning of this story, shall we?

Back in February, auditors were asked to investigate the residency claims of several senators, including Mike Duffy.

At that time, Duffy stated:

“As a Prince Edward Islander, born and bred, I am proud to represent my province and its interests in the Senate of Canada,” Duffy said in the statement.
“I represent taxpayers with care, and Canadians know I would never do anything to betray the public trust. I have a home in Prince Edward Island as required by law. I will have no further comment until this review is complete.”
Amusingly, a few days later, we learn that neighbors near Duffy's alleged "primary residence" on PEI hadn't seen him there very often at all.  Which, of course, raises questions as to whether or not Duffy is even eligible to sit as a Senator for PEI at all.

In march, Duffy promised to pay the expenses back.  In itself, that seems to be the honourable and appropriate thing to do.

During April, Duffy claimed he was going to do nothing until the results of the audit were in only to turn around a day later and claim that he had already paid the amount outstanding back.  The Conservative politburo in the PMO has lost control of this story - it has spun so far out of control that they cannot bury it.  The most recent twist of a "gift" of $90K to Duffy from a high level PMO staffer just smells wrong.  Not necessarily strictly wrong, but morally and ethically suspect.  To claim that Harper didn't know about it seems less than believable, especially given Harper's known track record as a micromanager.  Paying the money back smacks of a cover-up (which it is), and the longer this goes on, the worse it looks for both Duffy and the credibility of the Harper government.

One might be tempted to look upon this as simply an individual Senator overreaching their privileges.  That is certainly easy enough to do, after all Duffy is but a singular senator, and one who comes from a background of considerable privilege both in his personal life and as a reporter on Parliament Hill before he became a Senator.

Then we have the revelation that he was claiming significant expenses on his Senate expense account whilst campaigning during the 2011 election campaign.

Social media and newspaper reports offer a glimpse of how Duffy's busy campaign schedule overlapped with the Senate business he reported to auditors:
— On April 5, Duffy spoke to the Kootenay-Columbia Conservative association in British Columbia. His travel claims indicated he was on Senate business.
— On April 8, candidate Sandy Lee tweeted that she was meeting Duffy in Norman Wells, N.W.T. Lee's campaign paid Duffy $209.01 in expenses. His travel claims indicated he was on Senate business.
— On April 21, Duffy was reportedly campaigning with candidate Scott Armstrong in Nova Scotia. Armstrong's campaign paid Duffy $409.91 in expenses.
— On April 28, Duffy appeared to have a busy day in the Toronto area, campaigning with candidates Maureen Harquail, Wladyslaw Lizon and Gin Siow. Lizon's campaign paid Duffy $169.45, as did Siow. His travel claims indicated he was on Senate business.
— On April 29, former cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon tweeted a picture of Duffy at an event outside of Ottawa that same day. The Deloitte audit listed Duffy as being in Ottawa on Senate business and claiming a per diem.
If Duffy collected daily Senate expenses while on the Conservative campaign trail, taxpayer may have paid twice: Conservative candidates who paid for Duffy's hotel stays would have received federal rebate money for those expenses.
Duffy's campaign events did not end there. On at least five other occasions documented in media reports, Duffy campaigned with Conservative candidates. He did not tell Deloitte about his campaign calendar, forcing Deloitte to list his activities as "undocumented."
In essence, taxpayers were paying for Duffy to travel around Canada campaigning for the Conservative party.

The first thing that comes to mind is that ALL Senators expense claims during the election campaign need to be reviewed.  If it is in fact a "normal practice" for Senators to claim travel expenses while on the campaign trail, that needs to stop.  Now.  An election campaign is not in any meaningful sense of the word "Senate Business".

However, this is but one thread in a much larger tapestry of Conservative dirty tricks during the 2011 election campaign.  Consider, for example the infamous Robocalls Scandal where Conservative telephone calls to constituency residents were used to direct voters to non-existent voting stations.  As if that were not enough, we also have Peter Penashue's resignation as a result of irregularities in campaign spending.  While there is no excusing Duffy's actions, he is in some ways the proverbial "canary in the coal mine".  He has been just naive enough that he has been caught out in a web of lies, deceit while his hand was firmly in the cookie jar.

Politics is a dirty sport at the best of times, and few if any politicians can claim to be entirely clean.  However, under Harper, things have sunk to levels far below those which Mulroney's government sank to in the late 1980s.  This is blatant corruption and pork-barrel politics at its worst.  While the events around the Airbus Affair certainly did not pass the smell test, they had a degree of ambiguity to them.  What we are seeing today is much more blatant in the degree and extent of the corruption and abuse of Canada's system of governance.

At the rate that he is going, Harper's legacy to Canadians will at its best be the redemption of Brian Mulroney.

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