The long shadow of the senator of Cavendish

If only Stephen Harper had appointed Mike Duffy to represent Ontario


Mike Duffy

Hello Stephen, Mike Duffy here.”

He haunts him still.

It’s not that Prime Minister Stephen Harper shouldn’t have appointed Mike Duffy to the Senate, however much the former (and perhaps even the latter) might be wishing now that he hadn’t. It is, in fact, possible, with the changing of one small detail, to plausibly imagine a scenario in which Harper appoints Duffy to the Senate on that fateful day in December 2008, and these subsequent six years unfold entirely unremarkably, save maybe for some periodic note of Duffy’s post-journalism commitment to the Conservative cause as a fundraiser and public personality.

But Harper appointed Duffy to the Senate to represent the province of Prince Edward Island. And the significance of that deserves repeating and dwelling upon. From that particular assignment does most, perhaps nearly all, of this follow. If Duffy gets appointed to represent the province of Ontario, there are no living expenses to claim, no reason for the Prime Minister’s Office to get involved, no reason for Nigel Wright to write him a cheque, no reason for the RCMP to investigate and, thus, maybe nothing like the 31 charges that were filed today against the independent senator for Cavendish, as he is still officially listed, whatever the suspension his former colleagues have imposed.

And now, look. Look at it all.

If nothing else, a trial will now compel another look—this look conducted well beyond the control of the Prime Minister, and with all the powers to compel information and testimony that a judicial hearing allows. Never mind the prosecutorial tone of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair; now we will have a real hearing.


Woman claims to be Mike Duffy’s unacknowledged daughter

Why Mike Duffy is facing charges, and Nigel Wright isn’t

Mike Duffy: King of the hill

The questions to be answered, both within that courtroom and well beyond, are now as numerous and plentiful as your imagination will allow. What more is there to learn about the arrangement between Duffy and Wright? What more might we find out about the machinations of the PMO and the Conservative party? What more might Duffy have to reveal? Who knew what about what? Will the Prime Minister be called to testify? If called, will he agree to do so? Could he really refuse? Why was Duffy charged for accepting the $90,000 cheque, but not Nigel Wright for writing the $90,000 cheque? What do the Senate’s residency rules even mean? Will a trial commence before the next election? If so, what impact will that have on the campaign? What sort of impact will this trial (not to mention any subsequent trials for any other senators) have on the public standing of the Senate and the future of Senate reform (or abolition)?

Though it can’t be pinned solely on Duffy’s efforts—Mac Harb, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau did their part—the auditor general is now investigating the entire upper chamber. What else will Michael Ferguson find? How much more trouble might there be? Will we one day look back and say that Mike Duffy made some contribution to inspiring a more independent and reformed Senate? We can, for now, credit him with helping make question period as riveting as it has been in years and with turning the proceedings of the Senate, for at least a couple of nights, into mesmerizing theatre, a wondrous one-man-play.

If the Conservatives lose support in the next election, will we also have to credit Duffy with having helped Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or Mulcair become prime minister? Whenever his premiership ends, where and how will Mike Duffy factor into the legacy of Stephen Harper?

For now, it is remarkable enough that the appointment of a senator for Prince Edward Island has already mattered as much as it has for Harper (which is to say at all), a Prime Minister who assumed office on a vow to do away with the business of appointing senators.

Maybe someone can even mount an argument that this really doesn’t amount to much—an unfortunate series of events that is more spectacle and scandal than substantive matter of public governance. Or maybe this all exposes problems that go well beyond Duffy—questions about how Parliament functions and why. Even if Duffy’s claiming of a living allowance seems like an odd basis for a profound discussion, everything that has ensued seems worthy of consideration and review.

We can concoct elaborate ideas of how politics works, what matters, why governments succeed and fail, and so on. And then, one day, a prime minister can appoint a former TV newsman to the Senate and everything can start to go sideways and suddenly the behind-the-scenes can be made public.

If only section 22 of the Constitution Act didn’t exist. If only the fathers of Confederation hadn’t guaranteed that island burgh four senators. If only Stephen Harper had just given Duffy one of Ontario’s seats. If only Harper’s third chief of staff was someone other than Nigel Wright. If only Wright wasn’t wealthy enough to cut a $90,000 cheque.

That jerry-rigged website with Duffy offering greetings to a comprehensive list of possible names is a perfect piece of political absurdity and a minor irony—a reminder that he was once a prominent and lucrative face for Harper’s party. Probably Harper would happily trade all that money for an opportunity to redo that appointment for Prince Edward Island.


The long shadow of the senator of Cavendish

  1. There’s someone out there with an even bigger shadow than Mike Duffy. How can it be that a 8:10 a.m. on 18 July the Globe and Mail’s home page doesn’t have a single link to the Duffy affair? And in the Opinion section, there is one piece, by David McLaughlin, a former chief of staff and advisor in Conservative party politics federally and provincially proposing three options for Harper to shape to shape public opinion leading to next year’s election?

    As for your article, the biggest problem for Harper doesn’t stem from naming Mr. Duffy to a PEI seat as to naming Mr. Duffy (period). It is irresponsible to the highest degree to name a person under investigation by his professional peers for unethical behaviour – until the situation has been cleared. In the case of Duffy he was found guilty of unethical practice. Why should we then expect him to act ethically? Wasn’t he given the green light by the prime minister?

    We should remember that Mr. Harper had promised not to name to the senate anyone who had not been elected. This led to a crisis at which point he had to rush to name people for whom he took no time to consider the qualifications and appropriateness . And Harper’s dumb enough to recreate the situation right now. The main problem with the senate has always, and remains, the person seated center front row on the side of the government. And we’ve never had a bigger problem.

    • Your last two sentences sum it up perfectly, Loraine! Well said.

    • Loraine Lamontagne is correct. Mr. Wherry writes above that there was nothing wrong with Harper appointing Duffy to the Senate itself, just that he was chosen to represent the wrong province (PEI instead of Ontario). That’s only one part of the problem.

      What was also wrong about the Duffy appointment was that Harper appointed Duffy & another dozen or more Senators at a time when Parliament was prorouged and during which the PM according to convention is not supposed to make major appointments. Harper went ahead and named a whole slew of Senators without waiting for the results of a possible confidence vote. It was unethical, as is so much of his government’s conduct.

      The other aspect that was wrong about Duffy’s appointment is that Duffy himself was under investigation at the time by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council for breaching the broadcast standards code in his handling of Stéphane Dion during the 2008 Election. A few months after Duffy was appointed to the Senate, the CBSC ruled that Duffy did indeed breach the broadcast ethics code as a journalist for his biased handling of Stéphane Dion during that election. Wherry also fails to mention that Harper also sent a bad message by rewarding Duffy with a Senate seat for tearing down a political opponent of Mr. Harper’s in the form of Mr. Dion.

      Harper was supposed to bring in a government of purity, transparency and high ethics in 2006. The Duffy appointment became one of many, many examples of how low Harper has sunk from his original principles that he swore to uphold when he came into office.

  2. Pretty interesting ‘what if’, Aaron. If Duffy doesn’t get busted for the housing claims no one bothers looking into the travel ones either, likely and the ol’Duff is probably hosting town halls with the PM taking pot shots at Justin Trudeau. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I can’t imagine it can, in any way, be good for the Conservatives. Even if nothing new comes out at trial it’s going to be day after day re-hashing the affair and the government won’t be able to get their message out. My prediction which includes no inside information is that the government calls an election next spring. Can run on a balance budget and avoids the trial (presuming it’s not until later next year).

    • What – and break the law on fixed election dates? Surely Harper wouldn’t – oh, never mind…

      • I mention this whenever the “fixed election dates” law is brought up, so apologies in advance that this is a bit redundant.

        The great thing about those amendments to the laws around election dates that the Tories passed in 2007 is that the PM doesn’t have to break the law in order to call an election whenever he pleases. The most important thing to remember about those “fixed election dates” amendments is that the one thing that they DIDN’T do is fix the dates of our elections. The rhetoric around the changes at the time certainly led people to BELIEVE that the date of our elections had been fixed, but the actual statute still does no such thing, practically speaking. The most important line in the Canada Elections Act in this regard is the following: “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion”. In other words, the amendment first states that elections must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous election, but then almost immediately clarifies that an election can still be called any time before that, all the PM has to do is ask.

        Not only are there not really fixed election dates, the fact that there are not really fixed election dates has been tested, when Harper dissolved Parliament on September 7, 2008. Basically, the Tories spent a lot of time TALKING about taking away the PM’s power to call an election at a time of his or her choosing, but they never actually took said power away.

  3. I bet Duffy did the numbers in advance, and doubt he would have accepted an Ontario appointment without the illegal perks.

  4. Nigel Wright did aid, abet, covered-up and paid the debt for a corrupt Senator, who was thieving our tax dollars. The PMO also *sanitized* Senators expense claims.

    Wright was let off his crimes and for that very reason, Duffy will never see the inside of a prison cell. Harper sends most of his degenerates to the U.K. Ex BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell is Harper’s favorite henchman. Harper rewarded Campbell the post as, High Commissioner to the U.K. Campbell did a lot of underhanded work for Harper. Now Harper got Wright out of Dodge too. Harper also sent the witness to his robo-call cheat, out of Canada too.

    Duffy nor Wallin will do any prison time. The only ones who will be sent to prison are Brazeau and Harb. And as we all see? Harper gets away with his lies, deceit, corruption, thefts, dirty politics, dirty tactics and, he cheats to win.

    Harper is a fascist since, his Policy Chief for his Northern Foundation days of 1989. We also know? Just who donated to Harper’s alliance in 2002 as well. Then there is, Harper’s good friend Wolfgang Droege and his Heritage Front. Wolfgang was murdered in 2005.

    Harper isn’t a fascist monster?? Convince me.

  5. Fact is all of Ottawa is corrupt.

    No better options on the ballot that who gets more of our money for doing less and less. Just economic slavery to $45 billion of CBSA collected taxes, GST extra and the protectionism driven by dairy, beef and other lobbyists. Yes, I just said we are so tax greedy we run taxes and protectionism on FOOD to get retired, disabled, low income and just raise Canadian costs.

    Costs us jobs too, as being a tax inflated economy, we need uncompetitive inflated wages to live, so jobs that can leave eventual do.

    All to support the massive bloat, waste, corruption of Ottawa…. No options on my ballot that represent the people that make this country work. Ottawa is about illusions of other peoples money and lobby brokerage waste and welfare for provinces, corporations, unions, banks, auto and buddies.

    And we are well trained not to examine how the most expensive item in our life – govmint is blowing our wealth…. So its no surprise they are corrupt.

    Now you know why I don’t vote, no one on the ballot remotely represents ME or my families economic health. Its all about illusions, deceptions and greed of “other peoples money for nothing”.

  6. How much more money is the taxpayer going to spend to put this clown act to bed.
    Shut her down now – putting Duffy in jail – what end does that serve.

    If they are serious about cleaning this up.
    Start – in alphabetical order – an in depth investigation of each and every sitting senator – every penny spent – every penny paid to and the results of the investigations released to the public immediately.


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