As a man who might now be regarded as something of an expert in the nature of knowledge and expectation once said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”
In the case of Mike Duffy and the housing allowance, there are a few things that fit the first category, but mostly there are things that fall within the second, and then surely still now there might be things to come that presently exceed our understanding and thus fit the third. After three days of claims and counter-claims—following nearly a year of reports, allegations and findings and with investigations still being pursued—the Duffy affair is thus still mostly open to imagination and supposition.
Herein, a look at the claims and accounts around seven aspects of the affair.
What was Mike Duffy told about his expenses?
After the Ottawa Citizen questioned the senator’s claim of a housing allowance in December 2012, Mr. Duffy says he reached out to Nigel Wright. “Nigel Wright emailed me back, saying he had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order, that all was in compliance with Senate rules,” Mr. Duffy told the Senate on Tuesday evening. “In fact, he said, there were several other senators in the same situation. This was in December 2012. Mr. Wright said: The story is a smear.”
Mr. Duffy also claimed to have a memo from Marjory LeBreton, leader of the government in the Senate until this summer, that supports his position that his claims were within the rules. “I’ve violated no laws, I’ve followed the rules and I’ve got a ton of documentation, including a memo, a two-page memo from Sen. LeBreton’s office about it, and I never received a single note from Senate finance or the leadership that suggested anything in my travels was amiss.”
Senator LeBreton says she has no idea what Mr. Duffy is talking about. “What two-page memo? I have searched high and low and checked my files, and, for the life of me, I can find no memo that supposedly gives my approval to Senator Duffy to claim his property in Prince Edward Island as a principal residence in order to claim living expenses in Ottawa,” she told the Senate on Thursday night.
The February 13 meeting
Mr. Duffy says that after a February 13 meeting of the Conservative caucus, he spoke with the Prime Minister Minister and Nigel Wright. The Prime Minister’s Office previously disclosed, on May 31, that this conversation had taken place.
Mr. Duffy recalls the meeting as follows: “So after caucus on Feb. 13 of this year, I met the prime minister and Nigel Wright, just the three of us. I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules, but the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did; it’s about the perception of what you did that has been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base. I argued: I’m just following the rules like all of the others. But it didn’t work. I was ordered by the prime minister: Pay the money back, end of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout, just the three of us.”
Mr. Harper says he told Mr. Duffy to repay the expense claims. But he told the House on Wednesday that he did not say the other comments that Mr. Duffy suggests he said.
Was Mr. Duffy threatened with expulsion from the Senate?
Mr. Duffy says he was told that if he didn’t repay his expenses, some effort would be made to have him found unqualified to sit in the Senate. “He said the Conservative majority on the steering committee of the Board of Internal Economy, Sen. Tkachuk and Sen. Stewart Olsen, would issue a press release declaring me unqualified to sit in the Senate. However, if you do what we want, the prime minister will publicly confirm that you’re entitled to sit as a senator from P.E.I. and you won’t lose your seat. Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen are ready to make that press release now. I said: They don’t have the power to do that. He said: Agree to what we want right now or else.”
(It isn’t entirely clear who the “he” is here.)
On Wednesday, Thomas Mulcair asked the Prime Minister whether he threatened Mr. Duffy with expulsion during the February 13 meeting. “At that particular time did I threaten him with expulsion?” the Prime Minister responded. “No.”
On Thursday, Mr. Mulcair followed up on Mr. Harper’s reference to “that particular time.” “When did the Prime Minister threaten to expel Mike Duffy from the Senate?” the NDP leader asked. The Prime Minister did not provide a direct answer in response.
Speaking after Mr. Duffy on Tuesday evening, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk denied any role in a conspiracy to have Mr. Duffy removed from the Senate. “He went to great lengths to talk about the conspiracy in the Office of the Prime Minister to remove him from the Senate, of which he did not say that others had told him, but implied here that I and Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen were a part of. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr. Tkachuk said. “I want to assure senators, and I’m saying this in front of all my colleagues here, that I would never, ever participate in a conspiracy like this — never. I would never, ever participate in a conspiracy like this for any senators, let alone one of my colleagues on this side of the floor.”
The Deloitte audit
Mr. Duffy says that part of his agreement with Nigel Wright involved him being shielded from an outside audit of his expenses. “There was an undertaking made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte, that I’d be given a pass; and further, that if this phoney scheme ever became public, Sen. LeBreton, the leader of the government of the day, would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber.”
Ms. LeBreton says she had no knowledge of any such arrangement. “Honourable senators, this is not true. This is false. Not one single person ever suggested to me that this be done. Never did I hear of such a scheme. As a matter of fact, on Tuesday, when Senator Duffy uttered those words, it was the first time I had ever heard of this. It was news to me. There was not even a rumour around this place to that effect, illustrating how utterly preposterous this claim is. On the question of the Deloitte audit, where on earth did Senator Duffy ever get the notion that I, as part of Senate leadership, would agree that he would not be audited, that he would be given a pass? This is another blatant falsehood. I stated publicly many times that I fully supported the calling in of outside auditors.”
Mr. Duffy says he was “sent off” to Deloitte anyway, but that he was then told (by an unnamed individual) that he didn’t need to give the auditors anything.
The May 16 phone call
In his remarks to the Senate, Mr. Duffy described a phone call involving Senator LeBreton and Ray Novak, principal secretary to the Prime Minister at the time and Nigel Wright’s successor as chief of staff. Senator LeBreton would later place this call as occurring on May 16, two days after CTV first reported the existence of a deal between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy.
Mr. Duffy describes the call thusly: “Then, in May, after someone leaked selected excerpts of a confidential email I had sent to my lawyer in February, in which I voiced my opposition and concern about the deal, the PMO was back with a vengeance. I was called at home in Cavendish by Ray Novak, senior assistant to the prime minister. He had with him Sen. LeBreton, leader of the government in the Senate. Sen. LeBreton was emphatic: The deal was off. If I didn’t resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes, I’d be thrown out of the caucus immediately, without a meeting, without a vote. In addition, she said, if I didn’t quit the caucus immediately, I’d be sent to the Senate ethics committee, with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate. With Ray Novak, my wife and my sister listening in on the call, Sen. LeBreton was insistent: You’ve got to do this, Mike. Do what I’m telling you. Quit the caucus within the next 90 minutes. It’s the only way to save your paycheque, quote.”
Ms. LeBreton recounts the call as follows: “Two scenarios were laid out for his consideration. I can only speak for myself here and report on my notes of what I said, but I ask the question: What deal, when he said the deal was off? Consider the chronology, honourable senators. On May 9, we reported in the Senate the audits. Senator Duffy, as far as we knew, had borrowed money from the Royal Bank and repaid to the Senate his inappropriate expenses, and then, following that, there was a report that he claimed further expenses from the Senate and the Conservative Party during the election campaign. We then found out about the real source of the funds on May 14 and confirmed on May 15, so put that in context when he said that I said the deal was off. This makes no sense.
“So we laid before Senator Duffy two scenarios. Scenario 1 was that I would put out a statement saying that Senator Duffy has informed me that he has resigned from the caucus to sit as an independent senator; and scenario 2 was that I would put out a statement saying that given the growing number of questions related to Senator Duffy’s conduct, he has been removed from the Conservative caucus.
“Once he was presented with these options, I said to him, and I quote myself because I wrote my words down: ‘Mike, do the right thing and get out in front of this.’ Naturally, he did not take this news well. There were some back and forth discussions about the implications of this and how the announcement of this would unfold. Honourable senators, because I could tell he was concerned, I said the following in order to assure him that sitting as an independent did not impact his position as a senator. ‘Mike,’ I said, ‘this is the only option that can ensure your future livelihood.’ A few angry words were spoken, and he hung up on us. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and we got word back that he would issue a statement saying he was leaving to sit as an independent until these matters were resolved.”
The paper trail
Official requests for documentation of Mr. Duffy’s dealings with the PMO have so far turned up no documents.
Mr. Duffy suggests some kind of paper trail exists. “Given all of those emails, you can imagine my shock when I heard there’s not a single document about all of this in the PMO, not one. In response to an access-to-information request, CBC was told there’s not one single document related to this matter in the PMO. Well, if they’re not in the PMO, they’re in the hands of my lawyers and I suspect in the hands of the RCMP. Why don’t I release those documents now? Because the people involved have rights, which under our system, must be protected. Are the police looking at possible criminal charges? Are they wondering about bribery, threats and extortion of a sitting legislator? This is serious stuff, and the people who were involved and there’s more than those I’ve mentioned here today deserve to have their rights protected. It’s the Canadian way. It will all come out in due course when all of the players are under oath and the email chain can be seen in its entirety.”
Who knew? (And what did they know?)
The Prime Minister is adamant he had no idea Nigel Wright had cut Mike Duffy a cheque. According to Mr. Harper, he only became aware of this fact on May 15, when Mr. Wright told him.
According to an RCMP filing, Mr. Wright recalled telling four people that he would personally provide funds to Mr. Duffy: David van Hemmen (Mr. Wright’s executive assistant), Benjamin Perrin (legal counsel to the Prime Minister at the time), Chris Woodcock (director of issues management in the PMO at the time, now chief of staff to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver) and Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein.
Mr. Perrin has said he was “not consulted on, and did not participate in, Nigel Wright’s decision to write a personal cheque to reimburse Senator Duffy’s expenses.”
Mr. Duffy says “elaborate undertakings” were “negotiated among the several lawyers involved in this … at least two lawyers from the PMO, one I know of from the Conservative party and my own lawyer.”
CTV claims that 13 “Conservative insiders” were aware of Mr. Wright’s cheque for Mr. Duffy.
Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart Olsen say they had no knowledge of Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy.