After news that Harper intervened in Mike Duffy’s expense scandal, I watched CBC’sThe National with Peter Mansbridge. Mansbridge was positively gleeful. He was practically wetting himself with excitement as he reported how Duffy had implicated Harper.
Finally Mansbridge and the CBC had Harper, the bane of CBC’s existence, on the proverbial ropes.
But if you look at the facts objectively, rather than through a visceral anti-Harper prism, it becomes clear that Harper is blameless. I predict the prime minister will ride out this Ottawa-centric media blip. And emerge stronger and more politically powerful than ever.
Mike Duffy was appointed by Harper in 2009 as a Senator representing the province of Prince Edward Island. Duffy was a resident of P.E.I., in the limited sense that he owned a cottage in that province which he visited there infrequently.
Duffy’s primary residence was in Ottawa, where he spent the majority of his time prior to his senate appointment.
Typically, with respect to a senator’s primary residence in his home province, he is responsible for paying his own personal housing expenses from his salary. So as to avoid the burden of supporting two residences, the senator is permitted to claim reasonable housing expenses for the limited time he occupies a secondary premise in Ottawa when he is on senate business.
However, once Duffy was appointed a Senator in 2009, he apparently breached the spirit, if not the actual senate rules, pertaining to claiming housing expenses.
Because notwithstanding Duffy’s appointment, there was no change in his personal living circumstances. The only change was that since 2009, Duffy started improperly claiming his Ottawa housing costs that he had previously paid from his own pocket prior to his senate appointment. In effect, Duffy was improperly sticking the Canadian taxpayer with the bill.
Fiction upon fiction upon fiction.
Simply, the Canadian taxpayer was getting screwed by this puffed-up pontificator.
According to a Montreal Gazette article, Duffy’s questionable behaviour first outlined an Ottawa Citizen article on December 4, 2012, in which Duffy claimed $33,413 in living expenses for a “secondary home” in Ottawa.
Duffy’s position was that he immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, and explained that he had done nothing improper. According to Duffy, Wright e-mailed him back to say the senator’s expenses checked out and that all his spending was in compliance with senate rules.
Wright’s position was that Duffy was concerned that he would lose his senate position over the question of his residency in P.E.I. Wright assured him that there was no risk since the definition of “residency” is not defined in the Constitution.
Regardless of which version is correct, Duffy knew that senators could not claim a living allowance if their primary residence was within 100 kilometres of Ottawa. Duffy knew or should have known that his claims for living expenses on his Ottawa residence was improper and in breach of the rules, if not the spirit of the senate rules.
Furthermore, just because Wright may or may not have given Duffy questionable advice, this in no way makes Harper culpable in this matter. Clearly, Harper was not party to these conversations and cannot be held responsible for Wright’s actions.
Duffy’s expense claims were sent to senate auditors and by February, 2013, the senate had demanded that Duffy pay back all improper housing expenses including interest.
On February 13, Duffy met with Harper in Ottawa and he was told by Harper that he must repay all improper housing expense claims.
Recall Tom Mulcair’s reaction in Parliament upon learning that Duffy stated in the senate a few days ago, that in February, Duffy discussed his expense claims with Harper. And Harper told him in very direct terms to repay them.
Mulcair, like a modern day Émile Zola, accused Harper of being directly implicated in this Duffy Scandal, when it was already public knowledge that Harper had known of these improper expense claims and that he had wanted them repaid by Duffy, without delay.
On February 22, Duffy publicly stated he would repay his living expenses, confessing that he had made a mistake in declaring P.E.I. his primary residence.
On March 25, the senate was reimbursed for $90,172.24 of Duffy’s housing expenses, though at the time, this news was not made public.
On April 19, the senate publicly confirmed the repayment of Duffy’s expenses.
On May 15, Harper’s office confirmed that chief of staff and millionaire Nigel Wrightwrote Duffy a personal cheque of more than $90,000 to cover the repayment of expenses.
On May 19, Nigel Wright resigned as Harper’s chief of staff. Wright stated: “I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.”
Harper has confirmed Wright’s position that his chief of staff acted without Harper’s knowledge. To date there has been no proof to the contrary, despite the efforts of Mulcair and Trudeau to directly implicate Harper with Wright.
Accordingly, Harper cannot and should not be held accountable for the actions of Wright in giving Duffy a $90,000 cheque from which to pay back Duffy’s improper living expense claims. And the related media and political scheme designed to make the Duffy matter go away.
When a Conservative senator improperly used taxpayers’ money, Harper and his people demanded that those public monies be repaid. The actual loss to taxpayers in the Duffy case — nil, nada, zero.
When the Federal Liberals were caught lining the pockets of Liberal ad agencies with millions of dollars of public money (the infamous sponsorship scandal), those funds were gone for good.
When the Ontario Liberals wasted millions of dollars on two unpopular gas plants, they didn’t aggressively sue the non-compliant power plant developers to recover the public’s money. Instead they tripled down and paid over $1.1 billion in public money to make this problem go away.
As for the NDP, remember tax-and-spend Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae. And the failed campaigns of NDP Dix and Dexter. Positive proof that Canadians still do not want the NDP anywhere near their money.
Don’t forget the Mulcair/McQuaig team who would tax everything in sight.
The Canadian people may not personally like Stephen Harper. But more importantly, Harper’s base, the Canadian heartland, outside of Old Toronto, in rural Ontario and in the west, still trust that Harper and his party would better manage the economy and not waste or blow their hard-earned tax dollars.
After nine years of Harper rule, is this the best the Liberals and NDP can do? This liberal media-inspired Duffy mini-scandal. Where the public actually got its money back.