Around 3:20pm, the robed clerk on the left side of the long table that sits in the Senate’s middle aisle stood to signal to the Speaker that the honourable senator presently on his feet in the far left corner of the room had run out of time. And so even though the senator had not yet finished with his speech, the Speaker was compelled to interject.
“I regret to inform you that your fifteen minutes has expired,” the Speaker told Mike Duffy, the independent senator for Prince Edward Island.
Andy Warhol did not foresee Mike Duffy. Nor, presumably, did Mr. Warhol offer his theory on the nature of fame with any understanding of the Senate’s rules for debate.
“Are you prepared to ask the chamber for more time?” the Speaker asked. “Is more time granted, honourable senators?”
There was sufficient agreement in the chamber and so Mr. Duffy, in his way, with words italicized and exclamations added for emphasis, spinning a yarn for all those listeners out there, was allowed to continue making a mess of everything. He had come here, he said, directly from the local heart institute. He doctors had warned him that these proceedings were toxic for his heart. But here he was. Teasing out his story.
“We have more to come,” he said when he was afforded another five minutes. “We have more to come.”
By then he had already attacked the investigation of his expenses. He had named two of the lawyers he alleges to have been involved in the agreement with Nigel Wright. He had claimed that Mr. Wright had arranged with the Conservative party’s lawyer to have that lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, pay Mr. Duffy’s legal fees.
“One cheque from Nigel Wright? No, ladies and gentlemen: there were two cheques, at least two cheques,” Mr. Duffy reported. “The PMO, listen to this, had the Conservative Party’s lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, pay my legal fees. He paid for my lawyer—Arthur Hamilton, a cheque, $13,560. That is right, senators: not one payment—not one payment, but two.”
There had been gasps in the room at this.
He had said he suspected that the money to cover the cheque had come from the Conservative party—”the base’s money … to make this all go away.” He had said that Mr. Wright had objected to some action of Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate at the time.
“But there is more,” he said.
He said his discussion with the Prime Minister and Mr. Wright on February 13 was not a casual encounter, but an arranged meeting. He repeated that Mr. Harper had told him the Senate’s rules were “inexplicable to our base.”
“Wait,” Mr. Duffy said. “There is even more.”
He recalled how he had said he took out a loan from the Royal Bank of Canada to cover the repayment of his expenses.
“That line about RBC was part of a script written for me and emailed to me by the PMO,” he declared.
Apparently he’d only ever used a line of credit from the RBC to renovate his cottage in Cavendish.
“The millions of Canadians who voted for Prime Minister Harper and the thousands of Tories gathering in Calgary this week would be shocked to see how some of these people, some of these Tories, operate,” Mr. Duffy ventured. “They have no moral compass. Oh, they talk a great game about integrity, but, in my experience, they demonstrate every day that they do not understand the meaning of the phrase ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ ”
At 3:25pm, the robed clerk stood again. Mr. Duffy was nearing his conclusion, having invoked King John’s Magna Carta, John Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights, the rule of law, due process and the premise of fundamental justice.
“This is a case for the history books,” Mr. Duffy ventured. “What will history say of you, honourable senators, after this vote?”
With that he thanked his colleagues and asked permission to table an assortment of documents—an email from Mr. Wright suggesting Mr. Duffy had not violated the rules around expenses, a copy of a cheque for $13,560 from Mr. Hamilton, an exchange of emails over something Ms. LeBreton had done and a two-page memo on the nature of senatorial residence.
If Mr. Duffy is the proverbial bull in the proverbial china shop, Mr. Harper was today a man who clumsily stumbled into his own display of cups and saucers.
In this case it was the word he used to describe how Mr. Wright had come to be separated from the Prime Minister’s Office that sent everything crashing to the floor. “He was dismissed,” Mr. Harper told a Halifax radio host. Except, Mr. Wright was previously said to have resigned. (And that, of course, had happened some four days after Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy had been revealed and after Mr. Harper’s office had conveyed Mr. Harper’s confidence in Mr. Wright.)
Thus was poor Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister’s unlucky parliamentary secretary, compelled to stand in Question Period this afternoon and attempt to sidestep questions about which version of Mr. Wright’s exit was most accurate.
“Mr. Speaker, what is clear is that Nigel Wright has accepted sole and full responsibility for his actions. He knows that what he did was wrong and it was inappropriate,” Mr. Calandra dutifully reported. “He also knows that it would have been smart to let the Prime Minister know this and it was wrong that he did not. Had the Prime Minister known of this he would have, of course, never accepted it. Nigel Wright no longer works in the office of the Prime Minister.”
At least that last sentence seems definitively true. Everything else is rather wobbly—Was Mr. Duffy threatened with expulsion? On what basis did Mr. Harper once assure the House that no one in his office was aware of what Mr. Wright had done? Some of it perhaps always was wobbly—Mr. Duffy’s assignment to represent Prince Edward Island, the claim that Mr. Wright had only made a deal with Mr. Duffy so that the taxpayer would be reimbursed, the notion that the Senate needed to act now to suspend Mr. Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin.
On Thursday, it was a Conservative backbencher and a former president of the Conservative party who suggested the motions were an abuse of power. On Friday, it was the government leader in the Senate who wobbled, telling Mr. Brazeau that he might help himself by apologizing. On Sunday, Claude Carignan speculated that both Mr. Brazeau and Ms. Wallin could receive lighter sentences. And then today, another Conservative backbencher and another senator suggested the motions were unduly harsh. And now it is unclear how the Conservatives in the Senate will move forward.
Standing in for the Prime Minister this day, Mr. Calandra suggested several times that the three senators might apologize—seemingly a new addition to the government’s demands. And he bravely accused the Liberal senators of “blocking accountability.”
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Harper and Mr. Calandra combined to utter variations on the word “clear” some 17 times. Friday morning, over the course of that day’s Question Period, Mr. Calandra managed to commit the word to the official record no less than 32 times (the NDP’s Alexandre Boulerice woefully under-reported the rally today as a mere 29). This afternoon, Mr. Calandra spoke the word another eight times.
It is perhaps the Prime Minister’s favourite adjective. He has spoken it in the House some 517 times in the House of Commons since he became prime minister, 89 of those utterances in the 2013 so far.
It is a good word. A reassuring word. But it is not applicable to much of anything here. Though perhaps if the government insists on saying it enough, it can wish it into reality.
When Mr. Harper next turns up in the House, he will now have something else to explain.
When the Senate resumed at 8pm after its customary break for dinner, Mr. Duffy was not in his seat and the upper chamber was quickly adjourned for the day. We can thus only wait to see when he might appear again and what he might have to say then. We can probably only assume that there will be more.