OTTAWA – In the nation’s capital, companies pay strategic advisers and lobbyists to help them figure out what the government is up to and how best to get their message across to decision-makers.
According to Sen. Mike Duffy, even parliamentarians need a hand deciphering what their own government is doing and getting traction for policy ideas.
Duffy’s testimony in his own defence continued Monday, with more details about Senate contracts he organized to pay for a variety of services. He has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.
Many of those charges stem from nearly $65,000 in contracts awarded to former broadcast colleague Gerry Donohue, who, in turn, paid out tens of thousands to other service providers.
For example, Duffy paid for consulting contracts with a former Prince Edward Island political operative, Peter McQuaid, in part to give him “ammo” for the weekly Conservative caucus meetings.
He said he was particularly worried about safeguarding the equalization system for Prince Edward Island.
“I needed someone who knows what arguments worked for the federal government in the past and how can I argue with the current government that the status quo must at least be maintained,” Duffy said.
Duffy said that Donohue, a former labour executive for a broadcast technicians union, would also give him advice on how to raise issues successfully with prime minister Stephen Harper.
“How do I go and tell the boss that he’s wrong? As a professional negotiator, Mr. Donohue advised me on that,” Duffy said.
Both McQuaid and Donohue provided verbal advice to the senator.
A third figure, former Parliament Hill journalist and ministerial aide Bill Rodgers, was paid to help Duffy sort out what the government was really doing on certain policies, versus what ministers said during caucus meetings.
“After a while, it became apparent that there was a disconnect between what was being said in that room and what was going on in the real world,” Duffy told the court.
Rodgers, also known as William Kittelberg, would tell Duffy what was “real” and what was “political spin” from the Conservative cabinet.
“That allowed me to understand better the public policy landscape in which we were operating and to know when I spoke to people whether I was reading them back talking points that were incomplete or, in fact, false,” Duffy said.
Defence lawyer Donald Bayne has emphasized that Duffy received no kickbacks for any of his contracts and that they were all transparently submitted to the Senate as legitimate public business. The argument is that while they were paid out in an unorthodox way, they were not criminal.
But some of Duffy’s office contracts have been more difficult to square.
The thousands Duffy paid to personal fitness trainer Mike Croskery ostensibly for providing advice on how to improve seniors’ health were among the specific sub-contracts that engendered their own separate charges.
Before he became a senator, Duffy had already been paying Croskery for training.
After his appointment to the Senate, he said he and Croskery discussed the development of a national fitness regimen for seniors. Because Croskery was trying out certain exercises on him, Duffy said he might have received the ancillary personal benefit of toning on the side.
“If I had wanted fitness, they have a gym where parliamentarians can go for free,” Duffy said. “Frankly, the last thing I needed was more exercise. It’s not my movie.”