The week of Mike Duffy -

The week of Mike Duffy

Attempting to make sense of the matter of the housing allowance


This might otherwise have been the week that a government with a notable aversion to the legislature was reelected in a vote that included the ballots of just 52% of eligible voters. This might otherwise have been the week that Peter Penashue, he of the disputed campaign finances and boasting of holding up public projects in Newfoundland for the sake of a highway in Labrador, was soundly defeated in a by-election. Instead this was the week of Mike Duffy. At least in those places where it was not the week of Rob Ford. Or the mayor of Laval’s envelopes.

This was more specifically, at least in Ottawa and at least where people care about how public officials are behaving in regards to public funds, the week of Mr. Duffy’s housing allowance. Something like $90,172.24, including interest and some disputed per diems, spread over a few years.

Could this possibly have been worth that much?

Probably not. But then probably Mr. Duffy did not think that claiming as much might result in anything like this shemozzle.

For whatever reason, he claimed it. For whatever reason, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff thought it wise to cut a cheque to cover the entire amount. And now Mr. Duffy’s expenses during the last election are being scrutinized. And he is no longer a member in good standing of the Conservative caucus. And there are demands that the chief of staff go too. And there is something about the CRTC and Sun News. And the NDP wants more senators scrutinized. And Patrick Brazeau is claiming he has been treated unfairly (and he might even be right). And now Pamela Wallin has quit the Conservative caucus too. And, worst of all, there is not yet an end to this in sight.

It is tempting to attempt some assessment now of the last five days, but it is tricky to assess the damage of a hurricane in the middle of the storm. Consider that almost precisely a week ago, Peter Van Loan was calling on Senator Mac Harb to show “the kind of leadership” that Mr. Duffy had apparently demonstrated. Mr. Van Loan probably feels a bit silly about that now.

Nigel Wright’s decision to cover Mr. Duffy’s expenses might stand as the oddest political decision in recent memory. He might best be brought before a parliamentary committee to account for himself. He might be, as advertised, a good man who wanted to do right by the taxpayer, but then surely it wouldn’t hurt to have him explain as much in public.

The rest of it? Absent the oddity of Mr. Wright’s involvement, it would be easier to dismiss the whole matter as another silly chapter in the silly history of the Senate. As it is, it still seems profoundly silly that so much should result from a dispute over housing allowances and per diems.

To think that we should have to fuss deeply and at some length over housing and travel expenses is to despair. And on that level it seems small and grubby and weird, unworthy of inclusion on the list of the Most Disturbing Things About Canadian Democracy To Occur This Century and lacking even in the frivolity of Maxime Bernier’s misplaced briefs, which at least provided an excuse to use the term décolletage in casual conversation. One almost wishes for a mariachi band to be sent in. Or  some kazoos.

Which is not to say it should not be pursued—as it quite doggedly has been—or that it lacks in import. It is a matter of solemn public responsibility and public funds and all involved need be held to account—up to and including the Prime Minister and his chief of staff—so that we might at least have some kind of faith that our system of governance remains a mostly respectable endeavour. Indeed, if there is a truly great risk to all this it is that somehow this thing—whatever it turns out to be—should come to reflect on the body politic. That something so silly as a housing allowance and the resulting spectacle of the various attempts to account for it should come to seem even slightly meaningful. It is not that this isn’t a story, it is that it seems quite ridiculous that it has become such a story. (Is it then, in that way, unfair to use Mr. Duffy’s situation to question the entire existence of the Senate? Probably. The Senate should probably not exist for all sorts of reasons that having nothing to do with Mike Duffy.)

There is another budget bill making its way through the House. And there are so many other profound matters of the system that might be pursued. And so many questions about the next two years and the decades to come after that need be asked. And so it is so tempting to want this all to be done with and resolved and the responsible parties held to account as soon as possible so that we might all move on with the serious business of governing ourselves accordingly. But now this matter of Mike Duffy and his housing allowance is serious business. Even if it seems silly to write that sentence.


The week of Mike Duffy

  1. It’s a pretty goddamn big asterisk that the PM’s chief of staff intervened with a $90 000 cheque.

    And it’s a huge deal that Duffy and Wallin were even appointed to the Senate in the first place. It was a transparent signal to the media in this country that betraying all journalistic integrity by secretly shilling for the CPC will be rewarded with the best possible sinecure. Up to and including the PM’s chief of staff intervening with lots and lots of friendly money if you manage to f*ck even that up.

    • Did you read the source article about the mariachi band. If you did, you would know that it refers to a senator Andrew Thompson who in 7 years in the senate, showed up to work 12 times. It is reported he was ill and actually lived in Mexico. It is also reported he resigned once he qualified for a pension. The moral of the story….however disgusting the story of Wallin and Duffy might be and it is disgusting, this crap has been going on for decades in the senate and it has involved not only the Conservatives. It is easy to continually demonize one party or another but we have to realize there is wide-spread, long-term corruption going on here.

      • And the CPC has had how many years now to begin working on Senate reform? I suspect we’ll still be waiting when they’re finally out of office.

        • What they should do is put the NDP in charge of senate reform. By 2015 we won’t have a senate.

          • Bingo.

      • The Andrew Thompson episode is not as simple as you make it seem:

        “He has attended the Senate 47 times in the last 14 years and only 14 times since that GST debate in 1990.

        He is not technically in violation of any Senate rule, because he has not missed two complete consecutive sittings.

        He has also produced valid medical certificates to account for his absence. Under Senate rules, a member who produces a certificate is not considered to be absent.”

        • Oh I know he wasn’t “technically in violation of a senate rule” and I know he had a medical certificate. Are you saying he wasn’t in Mexico for much of the time that he was too sick to attend the senate. Are you saying that it is okay to attend work for 47 days in 14 years?

          • I don’t think Thompson he was violating the Elections Act while he was in Mexico.

            And we also know that Dingwall never claimed nor was repaid for a pack of gum. Somehow I can’t imagine the liberals or NDP or greens using Duffy has the poster boy of Conservative entitlement. That kind of behaviour is definitely the reserved domain of conservative operatives.

          • Oh for gawd’s sakes, this isn’t a partisan peeing contest! You can continue to pile it on as thick and as high as you want, I don’t care. I am immune. I am not going to defend anything the Tories have done. However, the fact that you guys are going to defend a person staying in the senate for 7 years while attending only 12 times is indicative of what the problems are. You say you want reform. Well come on walk the walk! It cannot be just reform for one party! Convince me to vote Liberal. Tell me, your attitudes have changed.

          • Exactly. We’ve had bagmen, cheats, thieves, and other assorted low-life in the Senate as long as we’ve had a Senate. We’ve also had them in the House of Commons. The difference being that voters can do something about a bagman, cheat, thief, or other assorted low-life in the House. Not so much in the Senate. This isn’t restricted to any one Party. No matter how much I enjoy the schadenfreude of this recent batch of Conservative slime, it is a problem with the Senate itself. Duffy, Wallin, and Brazeau are symptoms of the disease.

          • Actually they were very poor choices as Senators by Stephen Harper. Most Senators over the years have been very good and hardworking. Would you want your position at work evaluated on the basis that someone else who works there is a dolt?

          • How about Mac Harb? Was he a good choice?

          • No, he was not…….but again I will say the issue right now is not the Senate but the Prime Minister. Bribing a Senator is illegal and it is entirely possible that this has occured emanating directly from the PMO and to the tune of $90 000. Canadians are focusing on this as a priority first and foremost.
            To deflect to other situations or person does not deny this, now.

          • Sorry, but Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien, and Martin all appointed assorted bagmen, liars, cheats, and thieves. Harper also picked some doozies. The fact that there are a few good Senators in the chamber (and I agree, there are good Senators) does not nullify the rot in that institution.

          • I feel no need to defend or attack Pearson (Trudeau?) for recommending in 1967 the appointment of Thompson to the Senate.
            I admit it: I am less critical of a person in ill-health showing poor judgment than I am of a sitting prime minister who repeatedly appoints persons he knows are under scrutiny for questionable behaviour. Call me a dishonest lib for doing this if you wish, I too am immune. The rules for expulsion from the Senate are such that no prime minister should appoint people who are being investigated by the courts, a tribunal or professional board.
            I don’t expect that a prime minister will be able to predict the behaviour of one of his appointees ten or twenty years down the line, but I do expect her to name persons whose behaviour is beyond reproach at the time the recommendation is made.

          • I don’t believe I asked for any one to defend the choice made to appoint Andrew Thompson. I was just making a point that the senate has a long history of abuses. I don’t blame you for stepping up to defend your party. It’s what people who belong to a party do. However, the fact is that Andrew Thompson was a patronage appointment. According to the research (and it ALL says the same thing), Mr. Thompson retired from Ontario provincial politics in 1966 due to illness. He was then appointed to the senate in 1967. Obviously he wasn’t well and their were questions about this ability to do the job. He attended just enough to stay in the job. Frankly, I don’t care what party he is from. I know you guys only want to talk about Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau. That is fine. I am talking about the corrupt nature of the institution as well as corruption in general in our provincial and federal governments. It is one thing to be completely appalled with Stephen Harper, it is another to claim amnesia about our political institutions over the last couple of decades.

      • What the current government has failed to do is change the rules in the Senate to increase accountability.of the Senators.

        • That is absolutely true but they aren’t the first ones to have failed to do anything about it and they likely won’t be the last.

          • But the Harper Cons are the ones who have allowed the issues to become worse and more prevalent.
            They also are the first to have condoned the issues, by allowing the PMO to pay off the $90 000.00 illegitimate spending of one of thier own and had a majority Harper Conservative committee in the Senate alter the auditors report on one of their own Senators to let him get off easier than two other Senators who had the same issues.
            Let’s call a spade, a spade here!

          • So you are saying your party hasn’t been as awful as the Conservatives. Okay then.

          • You continue to deflect…the issue is today, now the PM and the PMO.

          • The issue today remains to be that we cannot get any crook out of the senate. The problematic senators du jour are Mr. Duffy and perhaps Ms. Wallin. The real issue though is that the rules are so rigid in ousting someone that is nigh impossible to do it. My pointing out that a senator was able to stay in the senate for 12 years while only attending 7 times, is in no way a comment on your Liberal Party. So please do not feel you have to defend your party or chastise me to remain on point. I don’t care what party the senator was from, it is just indicative of the fact that this blatant corruption in Ottawa is long-standing and completely with precedent. The fact that people defend their party and say that “my party isn’t as bad as your party” is why the corruption continues. It is an attitude of “everything for the party” and to hell with the Canadian public.

      • Andrew Thompson was appointed to the Senate in 1967. He was forced to resign in 1998. Between 1967 and 1991, so for twenty-four years, his attendance in the Senate was not questionable or questioned. Between 1991 and 1998 he attended the Senate on 12 occasions, claiming illness for his absence.

        Duffy was appointed to the Senate in December of 2008, while he was under investigation for breaching the code of ethics of his profession (and later found guilty). Before his appointment and everyday since his appointment Mr. Duffy’s behaviour and actions have been questionable.

        What is astonishing about this is the poor judgment of Stephen Harper in recommending for nomination people who are under investigation for breach of ethics, breach of the Elections Act, under suspicion of mismanagement of funds, or in the case of the employment of Mr. Carlson, known to have a heavy criminal dossier including convictions for fraud. I refuse to pin this kind of behaviour of conservatives in general. This is Stephen Harper’s fault entirely, personally. He is one hundred percent responsible for disregarding facts that were public knowledge in favour of partisan politics. He has failed us as a prime minister.

        The moral of the story is that Stephen Harper is a REALLY BAD leader.

        • Okay I admit Stephen Harper is a bad leader. However, my comment was not about Stephen Harper. It was about Andrew Thompson staying in the senate for seven years while he was supposedly so ill he couldn’t attend regularly (12 times in 7 years) but he could be in Mexico. Now I am asking you as a Canadian why you can’t admit that this isn’t okay? You want my vote and you can’t admit when your party’s senator’s abuse the system.

          • It was wrong….but you are delfecting. This is the current concern and it is a much bigger and more wide spread and sinister problem when it is being controlled by the PMO.

          • I am not deflecting. I am saying things are very bad now. There are three Conservative senators and one Liberal senator who have put in for housing expenses they didn’t qualify for. One has paid it back by VERY questionable means and the other we are very suspicious of her expenses as well. Brazeau has a horrid record beyond his expenses and that leaves us with Mac Harb. Does he get a free pass because he was a Liberal? You can say the problems are bigger and more sinister and wide spread compared to when…seven years ago with ad scam? That is certainly a matter of perspective and the perspective seems to all be colored by people wearing partisan shades.

          • There is absolutely no comparison between this and Adscam. Talk about partisan shades. This current issue goes to the heart of the PM and PMO of the country and Canadians of whatever party are incensed. Be honest with yourself this is critical to the future of Canada and democracy, regardless of who is involved.

          • I believe the corruption is rampant and it crosses all the parties. I believe the Conservatives are corrupt and I also believe the Liberals were corrupt 7 years ago. Now we are going to hear about Mr. Mulclair and the undisclosed offers of bribes from Laval. I don’t have any partisan shades. I wish things were better. I live in a province where the government intimated doctors who stood up for better care for patients. I don’t want to live in a country where power seems to corrupt those who we put our faith in to manage our country and provinces. I am happy for you if you can believe that ad scam didn’t go all the way to the PM’s office. It is kind of like believing that Brian Mulroney didn’t have some interesting deals with Karl Heniz Schreiber and that Allan Rock didn’t give 6 million of taxpayer’ money to a corrupt politician. If I had your faith, I would be a lot happier and optimistic about the future of Canadian politics.

          • Time to step up to the plate then and make a difference.
            Run for office or work to elect someone to office whom you can trust. we have to walk the walk not just talk the talk to have CHANGE

          • I never claimed it was OK for a Senator to remain in office when they are too ill to attend. I am glad that after the Thompson episode rules were tightened.

            Now it seems that after the Duffy-Brazeau-Finley episode we will have to write in the constitution that persons who are under investigation for wrongdoings should not be appointed to the Senate. What next – will we have to write it in the Constitution that the prime minister should not appoint a horse?

  2. “Mr. Van Loan probably feels a bit silly about that now.”

    Had to chuckle a bit in disbelief at that, as I’ve never seen him, or come to think of it, really any Tory in Harper’s government, fail to fully and enthusiastically commit to whatever stupidities or ridiculous nonsense talking points they’re sent out to sell. I’d say feeling silly would require having some dignity and self respect, attributes I’m finding to be sorely lacking in that crowd.

    I suspect Wright bailed out Duffy because he was fully convinced the Tory-controlled Senate was going to completely cover up Duffy’s misdeeds and would never further investigate him. I don’t think it was an error in judgment as much as it was a standard manoeuvre in an increasingly abusive and ethically deficient government. I fully believe there are more abuses of power and ethics violations to be found within this government, and I hope the press, the opposition, and hopefully soon the RCMP keep up the pressure to uncover more wrongs.

  3. In and of itself this story would be little more than comic relief. But I think it has come to symbolize ALL the petty, immoral, rule-breaking behaviours that have accumulated over these past years. It has become the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Or, at least, those of us who have long been sickened by not only this government’s behaviour but also by the apathy of the general public are certainly hoping it has.

    • Keith, you must understand why the general public has apathy for the goings on in Ottawa. You must also understand why compared to a big scandal like ad scam, the “petty immoral, rule-breaking behaviors that have accumulated over these past years” haven’t been enough to make people want to give the Liberals another chance. People don’t have that short of a memory. You are a Liberal party member. Perhaps you were willing to forgive the party right away but for others, they turned away in 2006 and they weren’t sufficiently disgusted with the Tories to turn back. Maybe with Justin Trudeau at the helm that will change.

      • No, HI, I’m not a member of any party. Was, briefly, a member of the PC Youth – though to be perfectly honest it was more because a certain female was than from any strong political convictions ;-)

        • Keith, you sly dog! You joined a political party to pick up chicks. I like it!! Hahaha!

          • Well, I was young – and as it happens, it didn’t work out. But It seemed worth the effort at the time :-D

    • Van Loan is in that dead end: if he knew the real story and defended Duffy his character comes into question; if he didn’t know and defended Duffy then he is revealed as a dupe and fool and a complete nobody in the Harper regime.
      It was so recently he was on his feet in the House in full sanctimonious flight. He must know people will be laughing at him after he walks by.

  4. I blame the Toronto Star.

    • They made it all up. Duffy and Wallin are unimpeachable angels. :)

  5. This is not about taxpayer money which is why I find the defense of the PM’s chief of staff to be ridiculous and if true, shows a profound lack of understanding of what is best for taxpayers.

    Is it more important that the misappropriated funds are returned or is it more important that those who did the misappropriating are held to account and any attempted cover-ups are exposed so canadians know the truth. The return of taxpayer money is not the most important thing when it comes to doing right by the taxpayer.

    Then there’s this little thing about the audit and how some senators seemed to be have been whitewashed. Why were Duffy and Walin offered the opportunity to right a wrong and not Brazeau or Harb?

    • You are dead on!

  6. Sigh.
    Just remember to Vote in the next election.
    There is always a percentage of people that will take advantage when put in front of a Full Buffet!
    No matter if it’s Parliment Hill or the Food bank.
    Who’s turn is it next to ‘lead’ the Country? Red, Orange, Green? The Blues have overstayed Their Welcome!!!
    Frequent Turnover and scrutiny is the only thing that keeps Them Honest!

  7. Mike Duffy should be ashamed of himself!!! How could you?