Well the shit has hit the fan. On Tuesday, both Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau had their day in court, so to speak, as they addressed the charges against them in the Senate, directing their remarks to their Senatorial colleagues which Pamela Wallin had the opportunity to do yesterday (Wednesday). Brazeau and Duffy both contended that they had done nothing wrong. Brazeau, speaking after Duffy warned his fellow-Senators that they better be clean if they decide to take action to expel him from the Red Room, to throw him under the bus as he put it, saying that he had done nothing wrong, calling what’s happening to him a joke and a farce and stating unequivocally that Harper “had lost his vote”. (The Gazette, October 23/13).
For his part, Duffy had a lot more to say, pleading his innocence, arguing that the rules were unclear, and that he had done nothing wrong. Further he stated that he had consulted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) when things started to go bad and said that Stephen Harper was not interested in the truth of the matter. According to Duffy in response to his claim to have done nothing wrong, the Prime Minister told him that it wasn’t about what he did but it was more about the perception of what he did and that if he wanted to stay in the Senate as part of the Conservative caucus, he had to reimburse the government for the $90,000 in living expenses he had claimed for his “secondary residence” in Ottawa. This exchange occurred during a February 13th, 2013, meeting “between him , the prime minister (sic) and the then chief-of-staff Nigel Wright – ‘just the three of us’.” Harper also said that the perception of what Duffy had done had been created by the media. “The rules are inexplicable to our base (Duffy) said Harper told him.” (Ibid)
Nice, eh? Really lovely. Duffy went on to say that he was ordered to pay the money back. Period. Then when he said he didn’t have that kind of cash, “Wright offered to ‘write the cheque’. Duffy did not suggest Harper was privy to that discussion.” (Ibid)
“But Duffy said from that point on, he was strong-armed by Harper’s office to go along with the plan or face expulsion from the Senate.” (Ibid) Harper has told the House of Commons that he didn’t find out about this cheque until mid-May, subsequent to CTV having broken the story of this “back room deal.” (Ibid)
The alleged facts of the matter are these. Duffy claimed that his primary residence was his cottage in Cavendish, PEI, which,would have allowed him to claim expenses for the time he lived in Ottawa on Senate business. This claim contradicts what some residents in that area have said which is that Duffy was rarely seen in PEI, let alone having lived there. The Senate itself decided that his place in Ottawa was in fact his primary residence. (Ibid) He has also apparently made other dubious financial claims including for expenses he incurred during the most recent election campaign while he was working for Tory candidates, expenses disallowed according to Senate rules. In addition, Duffy is presently being investigated by the RCMP for allegedly hiring a friend who was paid a total of $65,000 over a two-year period and who apparently did no work.
Brazeau is up on criminal charges as well as being threatened with expulsion from the Senate and the consequent loss of his livelihood due to similar expense claims he made. In Brazeau’s case he argued that his primary residence was on a Reserve where he has never been seen which allowed him, like Duffy, to demand reimbursement for expenses he incurred for a secondary residence in Ottawa, basically the same issue as in the Duffy case. Both of these guys lied but in Duffy’s case, and possibly in Wallin’s as well, they have argued that Senate rules are not clear. Duffy says that he had been told by certain high-ranking Senators that his expense claims were legally justifiable.
What a sickening state of affairs. The damage to the Tory brand, hopefully, will help remove them from office at the next election which Harper does not have to call until 2016. The Senate scandal has, unfortunately for the government in general and Harper in particular, over-shadowed the conclusion of a huge free trade agreement between Canada and Europe, which goes by the name of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), Canada being the first country outside Europe to conclude such a deal with the EC (European Community). One of the supposed benefits of this Canada Europe Trade Agreement will be the creation of some 80,000 new jobs in Canada.
It’s anyone’s guess how this whole mess will play out. I do not feel it is right for Duffy, Brazeau and/or Wallin to be suspended from the Senate without pay until they have been convicted of the crimes which are being alleged. They haven’t even been officially charged as yet. They should however sign an agreement that they will pay back all the salary they receive between now and the time they are convicted if that’s what eventually happens, with interest, of course.
The Conservatives are obviously closing ranks but they should not be allowed to punish any or all of the these three Senators to save the PMO including the P.M. himself from what’s coming to them if it turns out that they are lying and/or implicated in any criminal behaviour. In other words, it is evident that the Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau are being scapegoated. Why the rush to judgement. Let the case run its course and then take appropriate action. Any other type of manoeuvre or undertaking would undercut a fundamental precept of our democratic justice system which says that those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty. That’s it. That’s all.