Scrappy, reckless, petulant, wholly convinced of his own position, Sen. Mike Duffy gave as good as he got today in the witness box, and lead Crown Mark Holmes, going at Duffy in a curiously low-key yet still cutting manner, gave plenty.
It was Duffy’s seventh day testifying in Courtroom 33, at Ottawa’s Elgin Street courthouse, and his first going up against Holmes, the irascible prosecutor who has waited eight months to get this, his quarry, into the vise grip of cross-examination.
Duffy’s exchanges with Holmes were charged, circular poetry, the polished stuff of theatre.
It was occasionally riveting enough to forget that Duffy faces 31 counts of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
Duffy’s testimony during examination-in-chief gave Holmes plenty to re-examine, and he began early on to pick away at Duffy’s portrait of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
“You thought that the prime minister had been rude to those people by seeing you before them?” Holmes asked, revisiting one anecdote in particular that Duffy told under questioning from his own lawyer, Donald Bayne, last week.
The story in question involved Duffy’s first meeting with Harper, who, according to Duffy’s account, ushered him ahead of high-ranking military figures when he was still a broadcast journalist.
“I don’t think I used the word rude,” Duffy replied. “I found it curious.”
“Politics before policy,” Duffy said. “I would not have done that.”
“What if those people were waiting for another party to join them?”
“It’s entirely possible.”
“So it’s entirely possible that there’s nothing untoward about you going before them. Right?”
Duffy looked nonplussed. “Fine,” he told Holmes.
“It’s just—in your original portrayal of this—”
Duffy cut in. “Do you want me to go into a list of all the other times I’ve been at meetings when sincere bureaucrats were kept waiting while the prime minister ate a hot dog and somebody ironed his shirt?”
“Is this prime minister Harper we’re talking about?” Holmes asked.
“Yes please,” Holmes told him. “Go ahead.”
This development left Duffy momentarily befuddled. He took a long stretch of seconds in the box.
“In Prince Edward Island we had a rally in Crapaud—”
“Can you give the dates on these too?” said Holmes.
“I don’t have my calendar in front of me, you can find it—”
“Exhibit 7!” Holmes interjected.
Court clerk Evelyn Waldman handed Duffy his fabled Lotus Organizer diary.
“Your honour,” Bayne now said, taking this opportunity to weigh in, “how relevant is this? We’re going to be here for weeks—”
“We’ve already been here for weeks,” replied Justice Charles Vaillancourt. “And I’m permitting the Crown to—”
Duffy interrupted Vaillancourt to go into detail about Harper’s alleged rudeness in Crapaud:
“We’ve kept people waiting over an hour—a lot of senior citizens. It was a typical setup … put a big crowd in a small room and it creates a visual impression: aren’t things exciting! We kept people there waiting for over an hour, many of them senior citizens with no place to sit. When I raised that matter, I was told, we’ve got it under control, don’t worry about it. The prime minister was sitting there in an undershirt eating a hotdog and one of the female staffers was doing what the little woman should, she was ironing his shirt—”
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“And at what stage of your Senate career—” Holmes wanted to know.
Duffy, not listening, charged ahead.
“I thought that was—for someone who portrays themselves as a populist who cares about the little people, I thought that was just another example of what I consider to be rude behaviour. You may not think it’s rude—I do.”
“Let’s be clear,” Holmes said. “I think it is rude. I agree with you. When did this happen in your Senate career?”
“It’s in the diary. You can look it up.”
“Okay,” continued Holmes. “What’s the next example?”
“I’m not going to go further down this road,” answered Duffy.
“I beg your pardon?” said Holmes.
“I’m not going to go further down this road of digging up gossip,” said Duffy. “That’s not what this is about,” he continued, explaining he’d told the story about Harper’s aides ushering him ahead of the military brass “because it was the first time I’d met him in his capacity as a prime minister, and I thought it was relevant … But as far as going down the drain of every time he’s been rude to someone, I’m not here to do that. And if that counts against me for not going into the gutter, then I’m not going to go there.”
“Ok,” said Holmes. “I understand. You’re refusing questions. No problem. Um.”
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Holmes turned to the judge. “Your honour, perhaps you could ask the witness to answer the question? This was his offer to do this.”
“I can’t remember any further instances at this time,” Duffy said before Vaillancourt could have an opportunity to address the Crown’s request.
“So moments ago,” said Holmes, “to make a point, when you talked about numerous examples, you’ll agree with me now there’s but one example that comes to your conscious mind at this stage.” He was referring to alleged instances of Harper’s rudeness.
Duffy denied this, saying he could think of two, one in Centre Block with the military brass, another in Crapaud, “with hundreds of people waiting in Crapaud, Prince Edward Island, on a very hot day with no air conditioning, no chairs, and—well, you’ve heard the rest.”
“Was this in July 2010?” asked Holmes.
“Sounds like it,” Duffy said.
“But before the 2011 general election?”
“And in that general election, you would play your role to the fullest in expanding the Conservative party base. Right?”
“Yes,” said Duffy.
“And you would do that for prime minister Stephen Harper?”
“That’s correct,” agreed Duffy.
“You didn’t like him, though,” Holmes asked, referring to Harper.
“I didn’t like him?”
“Is that right?”
“I didn’t like some aspects of his personality.”
“Did you every share your sincere views about his rudeness with any of the groups you met with during the election campaign?” asked Holmes.
“I didn’t think that those—those were personal habits, I didn’t think they related to public policy, and I didn’t think as much as some people smoking, I find offensive, I don’t think that’s a reason not to vote for them.”
Duffy next did something unexpected a few minutes later, when Holmes asked him about his relationship with various party leaders from across the political spectrum. Duffy said, for example, that Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, had been to his home in Kanata.
“What about Stéphane Dion?” asked Holmes. “Has he come to your house?”
“Stéphane Dion hasn’t come to my house but Stéphane Dion knows that I consider—as Jean Chrétien did—consider him to be a great Canadian hero.”
Without taking a breath Duffy forged ahead.
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“Stéphane Dion was in that year  the [equivalent of] Bob Stanfield dropping the football. Um. In 1974, [former Progressive Conservative party leader] Robert Stanfield was on the campaign trail and went out and in a parking lot with the press tossed around a football. Doug Ball was a photographer for the Canadian Press, and took a whole series of pictures of Bob Stanfield catching the football. There was one picture where Mr. Stanfield missed the ball, and it wasn’t very flattering. And of course, of all the photos that were taken, the newspapers went with the Stanfield-drops-the-ball.”
Duffy switched gears. “In the 2008 election, Mr. Dion went on television in Halifax with our local affiliate there and was interviewed by the anchor Steve Murphy. I was in doing Mike Duffy Live, and in those days we did two shows, one at five and one at eight at night. I come out of the five o’clock show at six o’clock, when the show was off the air, and my phone rang. And it was somebody telling me, ‘Did you see Stéphane Dion on ATV tonight???’ And I said ‘No,’ because I was in the studio.”
Duffy the raconteur busted the fourth wall, stopping himself to look at Holmes. “I assume you want me to tell this story?”
“No,” said Holmes, at once aghast and delighted. “But go ahead—what question do you think you’re answering now, senator?”
“You said Stéphane Dion’s a hero of mine.”
“Or something to that effect—does Stéphane Dion come to my house?”
“That’s all I said,” replied Holmes.
“Anyway—Mr. Dion made a big mistake on the air. On ATV in Halifax. … I did not interview Stéphane Dion. Steve Murphy interviews Stéphane Dion, and I replayed, after it was already on the public record in Atlantic Canada, Steve Murphy’s interview with Stéphane Dion. And it was that election’s equivalent of Bob Stanfield dropping the football. Mr. Dion and his team were very hurt, and in the initial stages they were angry at Steve Murphy. But if you’re going to be angry at someone, why not be angry at someone better known? So then they were angry at Mike Duffy. But it was already on the record, it was already on the air in Atlantic Canada when I picked it up. So I didn’t interview him, I didn’t trick him, I didn’t do anything bad to Stéphane Dion, and he now understands that—we have had—”
“Can we back up,” Holmes said, cutting in. “I didn’t know we’d get into this but—”
“Well, why did you mention Stéphane Dion?” said Duffy, who appeared to have his heart set on telling this Dion story, and would brook no disagreement from the Crown.
“You were the one who raised him!” Duffy pleaded. “… And by the way, the decision [to rebroadcast] was made by the president of CTV News [who at the time was Robert Hurst], not by me! But I would have done the same thing. If the decision was me, I would have done it. It’s news. It’s an election campaign.”
“But you wouldn’t—Sen. Duffy, if—if, knowing everything you know now, you wouldn’t have done that again,” asked Holmes, now stammering, incredulous. “I mean, the Stéphane Dion—”
“I would replay the Stéphane Dion interview that he’d done with Steve Murphy without hesitation!” answered Duffy. “It’s a matter of public policy, it was a public issue. It wasn’t a dirty trick!”
“Well, that isn’t how the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council found. They found it was unfair, right?”
“But they were talking about Steve Murphy,” countered Duffy.
“No no. They found that your rebroadcasting of it was unfair.”
“Can you read the decision?”
At this point Bayne, Duffy lawyer, rose to reiterate his objection to all this.
“Your honour, for the record”—Bayne’s spoke in an uncharacteristically halting manner—”I object. You may allow this to go on. But I’m objecting, this is clearly an unrelated and collateral matter, and it’s prejudicial to the accused.”
Vaillancourt blinked. “Um,” he said. “When a witness, though, is so FREE with his evidence—a lot of these things are being generated from your client, not the Crown.”
“But your honour,” Bayne continued—by the look of him he knew he was making no headway, was spitting into the wind—”it’s because I objected before and you allowed it to go on and you go down that road…”
“Yes,” said Vaillancourt, turning to the Crown. “Carry on.”
“What I’m saying is,” said Holmes. “Private broadcasters are self-regulated—aren’t they?”
“No, they’re regulated by the CRTC,” Duffy told him.
“Right. But in terms of code of conduct and code of ethics, that’s the responsibility of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, right?”
“And ultimately, on that issue with Stéphane Dion that you’ve shared with us, they found that you behaved unfairly to him. Do you agree with that? That was their finding.”
“I’d want to read the wording, but—basically, yes.”
“Okay. And so when I said to you, you wouldn’t do that again, you have told us that you absolutely would, because it was already part of the public record in Atlantic Canada.”
“And my answer still stands. Standards in journalism have changed. The CBSC decision would not stand today. These people”—Duffy looked directly at his old colleagues, journalists gathered in the gallery—”the Internet, the bloggers, would not allow it. Doesn’t matter who the party was, this generation does not accept the fact that media censor—they want it all out there.”
“Sen. Duffy,” said Holmes, terribly troubled by Duffy’s recalcitrance. “I mean. There’s still some basic—some basic rules of engagement when you interview someone. Do you agree with that?”
“I did not interview Stéphane Dion!”
“But you rebroadcast his inability to understand the question that was put to him. Right?”
“I rebroadcast what Steve Murphy broadcast on ATV.”
“Okay. And that happened on the 9th of October, 2008. Is that about right?” asked Holmes. “And there was a general election five days later.”
“That’s why it was so important,” said Duffy.
Several exchanges later, Holmes raised the inevitable. “The 2008 election was heavily impacted by the rebroadcast of the Stéphane Dion-Steve Murphy interview, right?”
“I don’t know. I would ask the academics who did studies of the polls. I haven’t done that.”
“And less than two months later prime minister Stephen Harper would offer you an appointment to the Senate, right?” Holmes said.