Question Period Live

Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy will be inseparable for eternity

Colourful emails on the public record preserve the pair's interactions in perpetuity

Mike Duffy produces slow-motion drama everywhere he casts a shadow. The suspended senator’s criminal trial has produced reams of Senate rulebooks, piles of expense claims, hours of testimony that’s attempted to determine the various mechanisms meant to hold our sober second thinkers to account. Meanwhile, the suspended senator’s quasi-trial in the House of Commons, headed up by Thomas Mulcair’s dozens upon dozens of questions to the Prime Minister about what he knew when, is nearing its second birthday.

Justice, eventually served, is slow.

Never one to back away from a question about the Wright-Duffy affair, Mulcair recited a new raft of emails into Hansard. Among them, a note from Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ex-chief of staff, who the RCMP allege was involved in unconventional revisions to a Senate audit of Duffy’s expenses. “Mike is very pleased with this, so it will give us a little bit of time if Sen. Tkachuk can pull it off,” read the missive from Wright to several cohorts.

“Pull what off? Obviously, rewriting the report,” said Mulcair. “This is pure Richard Nixon. The Duffy-gate coverup was orchestrated right in the Prime Minister’s Office. That’s what these RCMP court documents prove. Why won’t the Prime Minister answer?”

The Prime Minister was not in the House of Commons. Tomorrow, #duffytrial enters its 22nd day. Most parliamentarians head home for the weekend. They sit in the Commons for five more weeks before the summer break,and the probable conclusion of this session of Parliament. Plenty more time for Hansard to record Wright a few dozen more times. He sat at 769 mentions before today’s QP. Why not make it an even 1,000?

The context

Nigel Wright’s name is a fixture of parliamentary conversation. Wright, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, got all mixed up with Mike Duffy, the now-suspended senator whose improperly claimed expenses got him in a heap of trouble—and may land him in jail, depending on the outcome of the tedious, rules-obsessed criminal trial in which he is now a defendant. Wright apparently went to great lengths to ease the pain Duffy faced as the Senate took a closer look at his expenses. And Wright even cut a personal cheque that covered the $90,172 Duffy eventually owed back to taxpayers.

For all of that, Wright’s name has come up in the House of Commons no fewer than 679 times since 2013. Wright’s relatively low profile behind the scenes had limited mention of his name to 90 times in the three years prior. He’s now part of the punchline every time the opposition raises the curious case of Duffy and wonders just how deeply involved was the Prime Minister’s Office in the senator’s troubles.

Wright’s emails, made public in the course of the RCMP investigation that preceded #duffytrial, have earned a reputation for dramatic flourishes. He famously wrote in 2013, some time before he handed over that big cheque, that he got the “good to go” from the Prime Minister—for what, exactly, remains unclear, but opposition parties eat up colourful language.

Today, yet more emails emerge as Duffy’s defence lawyer, Donald Bayne, bolsters his client’s case in court. RCMP documents allege that the PMO helped make changes to a Senate audit of Duffy’s expenses. The goal was to differentiate Duffy from other senators under investigation. Wright used more illustrative language in an email from Feb. 7, 2013. “A purpose of this is to put Mike in a different bucket and to prevent him from going squirrelly in a bunch of weekend panel shows,” he wrote.

Yes, squirrelly.

Wright will eventually testify at Duffy’s trial. Neither can probably stand having their names attached by a hyphen, but the Wright-Duffy affair has immortalized whatever they were up to back when one was a chief of staff and the other a Tory senator.