OTTAWA – Outspoken broadcaster and columnist Ezra Levant told a court Wednesday he wrote two or three non-partisan speeches for Sen. Mike Duffy, similar to ones that he prepared for other Conservative politicians.
Levant was subpoenaed by the Crown in the fraud, breach of trust and bribery case against Duffy. The now-suspended senator has plead not guilty to all 31 counts.
Some of the charges are linked to $65,000 in contracts Duffy arranged with companies owned by an Ottawa friend, Gerald Donohue. Those companies, in turn, sent payments for services to other individuals, including Levant.
The former Sun News host said he has known Duffy for 20 to 25 years and that although he was friendly with the “gregarious fellow,” he wouldn’t call them friends.
Levant said he was a “jack of all trades” between the closure of the Western Standard news magazine in 2007 and the launch of Sun News in 2011. His work included writing speeches for conservative politicians.
He testified by phone that he had been paid $2,100 each for two Duffy speeches in 2010 and 2011. Judge Charles Vaillancourt heard that the payments were made through Donohue’s firms, Maple Ridge Media and Ottawa ICF, rather than through a direct Senate contract.
Duffy’s defence in this area centres around the argument that although the invoicing and payment of these services was unorthodox, it was not criminal and Duffy derived no personal gain.
“No suggestion by Sen. Duffy that the payment form had to be kept quiet or secret or that there was anything suspicious about it?” defence lawyer Donald Bayne asked.
“No, not at all,” Levant replied.
Bayne also sought to emphasize through Levant that the speeches were legitimate public business, another core element of the defence.
One speech on responsible government was written for an event in Prince Edward Island and another involved the history and traditions of the RCMP.
“To me, they were very much public policy events and non-partisan,”Levant said. “They were not rah-rah Conservative or boo Liberal.
“They were all on public interest and policy, which is what I was hired to do, by other senators as well.”
The court began to hear from a second witness Wednesday, former dog breeder Barbara Thompson of New Brunswick.