National Column: Duffy a fading rocker on a farewell tour

The ol’ Duff doesn’t draw the crowds he used to.

The big top has come down, the circus has left town and Mike Duffy is stuck in the witness box in Courtroom 33, showing us pictures of his new foundation and parking pad at his Prince Edward Island home, detailing his medical woes and his bank balance, praising his wife Heather’s gardening skills and explaining the sewage system in Cavendish.

The old Harper gang with the grimy underbelly Duffy had vowed to expose has been run out of town.

The new gang has their guy in Vogue magazine with an invitation to a fancy dinner with Barack Obama and the Duffy sideshow seems to harken to another era already, because the page was turned in this town with lightning speed.

But like an old rocker on a farewell tour, Duffy still has some powerful licks.

The political trial of the century is down to Duffy saving his own skin, singing his own praises with his lawyer Donald Bayne leading him through the Duffy hymn book, placing him just short of sainthood.

Duffy plays to the nostalgic feel by using the jargon of yesteryear, measuring distance in miles, calling journalists “newspapermen,” referring to his time on Channel 9, once the name of the Toronto CTV

He spent part of one day using glasses missing one arm.

However, he has been waiting a long time for this curtain call and he has been given lots of time to show an impeccable memory of every event – along with the business cards of everyone he met.

Duffy faces 31 fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges but he told the court this week that he has never broken the rules, “let alone the law,” and had never taken a penny fraudulently from the Senate of Canada.

He was the Conservative rock star and the man MPs buttonholed at the Wednesday caucus meetings pleading with him to come to their ridings and expand the “pool of accessible voters” with his smile, his bon mots, the pictures he would pose for. They wanted to bask in the Duffy glow and trot around with the man who described himself as a “friend-raiser.”

He travelled with Stephen Harper to Prince Edward Island where the then prime minister was honoured as “Snowmobiler of the Year.”

He flew to picnics in Whitehorse and golf tournaments in British Columbia. He spoke to local journalists, he talked about the economy at stops across the country.

Harper had praised Duffy as one of his hardest working Senate appointees ever and the senator has the autographed photo with that message to prove it.

But was this partisan work or public policy work?

Well, Duffy said he found it “unbecoming” to be partisan, to go somewhere and praise Harper or say the Liberals or NDP were bad.

“That’s not my style,” he said.

His style, he said, was “therapeutic listening,” whether to labour leaders in Peterborough, veterans in British Columbia, environmentalists on Vancouver Island or small town mayors in Ontario.

But he still likes to talk and he misses no opportunity to promote himself from the stand.

There was the Saturday night in Winnipeg when he vowed to help the Salvation Army get some government infrastructure money and he called John Baird at home and got a name for those who work so hard for the underprivileged.

“That’s what public service is all about,” he said.

His wife was indispensable on these trips, otherwise he said he would forget to take his medicine. “She is a like a hawk on that,” he says. He would invariably fall ill upon return from one of these gruelling public service trips, he told the court.

He seemingly worked his undying love for Prince Edward Island into every third answer. At one point Bayne asked him about his home there after a stupefied courtroom had sat through photo after photo of the renovations complete with shout-outs to the tradesmen he hired. The home was worth about $250,000 to $300,000 and Bayne, for some reason, asked what it would be worth in Muskoka.

“Not as much, because you can’t beat P.E.I.,” the old Duffster crowed.

“It’s not a palace though, is it?” Bayne asked.

“It is to us,” Duffy replied.

Such greeting card moments and pledges of purity may be needed to ultimately save Duffy.

But this denouement of an eight-month trial can’t be pleasing a man who craves attention because, like every fading rocker learns, the old tunes eventually find fewer ears.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@nutgraf1.

Copyright 2015 – Torstar Syndication Services

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