Newsmakers of 2013: Mike Duffy

Once the Tories’ star money-maker, Duffy emerged as the Prime Minister’s most formidable foe


Chris Wattie/Reuters

“Wait! There’s even more!” Standing on the floor of the red chamber last October, Mike Duffy sounded like a huckster from a late-night infomercial. But it was a bankable truth. For most of 2013, the 67-year-old senator for P.E.I. dominated the political agenda in Ottawa, whether via the allegations, innuendo and conspiracies he has been busy spreading around town or the RCMP investigation that has followed in his wake.

Caught out for inappropriate expense claims—designating his island cottage as his primary residence, and taking per diems while he was on vacation or party business—the “Old Duff” at first appeared to be taking the high road, repaying $90,172.24. “I filled out the Senate forms in good faith and believed I was in compliance with the rules. Now it turns out I may have been mistaken,” he told the media in February.

However, it soon emerged that it wasn’t his own money. In May, Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, admitted he had cut a personal cheque to cover the bill, and resigned. Ever since, the scandal over the senator’s expenses, and the Tory party’s furious efforts to bury the story, have crept closer and closer to the Prime Minister.

Duffy, a heavyweight presence in the Parliament Hill press gallery from the early 1970s on, had always coveted what he termed “the taskless thanks”—a seat in the Senate. His open and shameless lobbying was the stuff of legend. “Mr. Chrétien once told me that every time Mike saw him in the corridor he’d yell out, ‘Prime Minister, I’m ready! I’m ready!’ ” says Eddie Goldenberg, a former Liberal chief of staff. And when Harper finally granted Duffy his wish in late 2008, it seemed a perfect match. Duffy got the title, paycheque and comfortable insider’s pew, while the Tories gained a name who could pack events across Canada and convince partisans to open their wallets for the cause.


But his free-spending habits and famously loose lips soon proved a problem. A recent RCMP court filing details dozens of emails that flew back and forth last winter and spring between apparatchiks and party brass. “My only concern is Sen. Duffy,” wrote Sen. Marjory LeBreton, then the government leader in the upper chamber. “Even though he claims he is careful in what he says and does, the evidence is the opposite!”

Indeed, after the attempt to quietly buy Duffy out of his jam gave way to efforts to punish him—first by forcing him from caucus, then suspending him from the Senate—the former broadcaster proved a formidable foe. Often he has been the one shaping the news through carefully timed disclosures. And the grenades he lobbed during the fight to hold on to his seat—including the revelation that the party covered a further $13,000 of his legal fees—are still exploding. It may not turn out to be the “monstrous fraud” he alleged in October, but the RCMP have indicated they believe both Duffy and Wright committed crimes in their attempts to sweep things under the rug. (Three other senators who made improper expense claims—Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb—are also under police investigation.) And at least 12 senior Conservatives, including six people in the PM’s office, knew of the former chief of staff’s deal with Duffy, raising many uncomfortable questions for their boss.

Wright, like the senator, maintains he acted lawfully. But last February, he wrote a prescient email to a colleague. “I think,” it said, “that this is going to end badly.”


Newsmakers of 2013: Mike Duffy

  1. Hired for his media “brand” to boost CPC coffers by singing their praises both in the house and at fundraisers, he ends up draining support and being a pariah that does his best to bring the Conservatives down. Interesting arc.
    I wonder what’s next for old Duff? A tell all book that exculpates big Mike and points fingers at the nasty PMO/Senate alliance? Face it, Duffy needs income. But at the same time, he will be scared scared scared about the threat of lawsuits that will surely come his way. And there’s no doubt Harper is a very vindictive guy.

    • Who would buy a book by a guy who alleges he accepted a bribe and has been lying about it ever sine? Duffy’s got zero credibility. The only way Duffy could sell a book is if he were peddling scandals that he was personally involved in, and would likely end up in jail.

      • Lots and lots of people would read such a book. It would make a big media splash and the stories would take root in the Canadian psyche.
        It’s like Harper’s plausible deniability defence in the whole Wright/Duffy affair. Most people don’t believe him, but for the hardcore partisans, it’s plausible and that’s all that matters.
        Launching a big lawsuit at Duffy might even have unintended consequences. Harper is no longer the fresh faced kid ready to clean up Liberal corruption. He is now the PM of a secretive government that now has a “brand” for being anything but open, transparent and accountable. Canadians are slow to move, but when they get riled, they turn.

      • Harper’s secrets.

          • Correct. If he has seen long term goals and plans it could be a blockbuster. But I don’t think he probably knows much on that level.

      • I have a question for you sir, seeing you are a stalwart fan of Mr. Harper. Did you like Duffy before he got caught ? I’ll bet you did. As much as some people may disagree with me, I believe Mike Duffy’s story over Harpers cover up to this point right now. Harper has left a big ” Mottza “(an explanation) out their, he is not plausible enough for people to believe right now. Until your guy(Harper)comes forth with the truth or some true explanation to what took place in this cover up, he will always be a liar, and will wear this one for quit a awhile, as a matter of fact, this may end his career yet.

        • So you don’t like the truth, so you’ve decided you’d rather believe a proven liar than the Prime Minister of Canada. Your choice of course. But you were never going to vote for Harper anyway, because you think he’s the most evil man in Canada. So I don’t think he’ll be losing any sleep over it.

          • Your the one who believes in a liar. I did vote tory one time, and I probably would vote that way again if their was a honest tory party, but the tories are no more, I was a red tory, but I don’t vote for corruption. I am not naive like you or most like you, I know a corrupt crook when I see one, I have, a good judge of character, and harper is a corrupt crook PM.

          • They are both liars, which is why this whole thing is fascinating to the public in the way supermarket tabloids are. Which is definitely NOT a good thing for a political party or its leader. Unless, apparently, your name is Rob Ford.

  2. Heart surgery patients in recovery do a lot of introspection. Time will tell…

  3. Hubris: See: Duffy, Mike; Harper, S.

  4. Let’s wait until the Auditor-General’s audit of all Senators to see if only a few were on the take.
    Senate corruption is an equal opportunity condition: the Liberal Senators over the past decades have had their snouts as deeply in the public trough as the Conservatives.
    A plague on both their houses.
    Abolish the Senate.
    Keep up the pressure , Tom Mulcair.

  5. “Once the Tories’ star money-maker, Duffy emerged as the Prime Minister’s most formidable foe”

    Truly the harshest thing anyone’s said about Trudeau.

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