Senator cleared of bribery, fraud, breach of trust charges

by Tim Harper

Had he so chosen, Mike Duffy could have left his familiar courtroom perch Thursday, made a hard right and taken a step on the long road to redemption.

He could have marched down the wide expanse of Elgin St. toward the War Memorial, veered left and into the Centre Block’s east doors leading to the Senate chamber.

He could have sneered at the media throng, including former friends and colleagues, which has tormented him so over the past years.

He could have flipped the bird to his Senate colleagues who rushed to judgment, ignored due process and kicked him to the curb – “lancing a boil” as one once put it to me – and he could have had the last laugh at the Conservative MP for Calgary Heritage, one Stephen Harper.

It turns out Duffy was right. The plan by Nigel Wright to pay him $90,000 in return for a public declaration of wrongdoing was a “monstrous conspiracy.”

At least it was in the eyes of Justice Charles Vaillancourt, who provided as complete and thorough an exoneration of Duffy and as complete and thorough excoriation of Harper’s PMO as any courtroom could possibly have heard.

It was a decision that is unlikely to immediately turn public opinion on Duffy or the Senate, but it was the day the ol’ Duffster could have only imagined in his most vivid, Technicolor verdict-day dreams.

It was six hours in which every charge – 31 in all – was stripped of credibility and dismissed. It was a complete deconstruction, sometimes mocking, of an incomplete and inept Crown case, an indictment of the lack of rules and oversight in the Senate.

Then Vaillancourt capped his day with his unprecedented takedown of the ruthless gang in Harper’s PMO, words delivered from the bench and destined to live in posterity to be studied by historians and political scientists.

This may not be the Mike Duffy most Canadians believe they knew, but this was the Duffy described by Vaillancourt Thursday – a credible, hard-working senator (as Harper himself had written on a photo introduced as an exhibit) who never padded expense claims, never ran away from questions about his residency and sought the advice of Senate leaders and was told he was doing no wrong.

If it was not the Mike Duffy we thought we knew, it was the Mike Duffy his lawyer Donald Bayne expertly sketched.

Oh, some of his contracts were unorthodox and perhaps some of his travel could raise eyebrows, but Vaillancourt could not find Duffy was evading Senate oversight because there was no oversight in the first place.

It was a late and taxing victory that clearly took a toll on Duffy, but it was a three-pronged victory nonetheless. His trial obscured Harper’s early campaign messaging and played into the resounding defeat of the Conservatives, he has official condemnation of a PMO that was essentially found guilty of “mind-boggling” scheming by Vaillancourt and he was completely cleared.

It was Duffy’s legendary gift of the gab that came to his rescue again. Vaillancourt said his introduction of extraneous facts enlivened court proceedings, but never tarnished Duffy’s credibility.

Duffy rambled on for hours in his defence, unchallenged, waxing on with remarkable clarity on everything from meetings with seniors or veterans, a Peterborough trip that was alleged to be a trip to buy a puppy, the great work done on his Cavendish residence by Prince Edward Island contractors, his work with an exercise consultant and a sudden interest in the fitness of seniors.

There will be those who dismiss Duffy as old news. The real intrigue of the case was the inner workings of the Harper PMO and it is yesterday’s news, a government sent packing six months ago, now a historical relic.

That ignores the jolt of a respected jurist pronouncing on the inner workings of a Canadian government from the bench.

“The political, covert, relentless, unfolding of events is mindboggling and shocking,” said Vaillancourt, who said Wright was moving PMO operatives and senators around like so many chess pieces.

“The precision and planning of the exercise would make any military commander proud. However, in the context of a democratic society, the plotting as revealed in the emails can only be described as unacceptable.”

Ultimately, Duffy’s free will was overwhelmed and he capitulated to the threats from “Wright and his crew,” the judge found.

There you have it. Poor Mike. The problem that wouldn’t go away for Harper’s operatives.

It collides with the image of the cocky, verbose, self-preening Duffy, but as Vaillancourt asked: “Why is the PMO engaged in all of this activity when they believed that Senator Duffy’s living expense claims might very well have been appropriate?”

Somewhere Thursday night, Pamela Wallin slept soundly. And Wright, eight months removed from his bible-quoting, altruistic explanation for his role in this case, should be tossing and turning.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

tharper@thestar.ca Twitter:@nutgraf1

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

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