Listen Up! Mike Duffy may not be criminally guilty, but he is certainly ethically guilty – Opinion

Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

My Perspective on the Senate Scandal

Mike Duffy.

From zero to hero? Not in my book. To me the only issue that was resolved after the year-long trial of Mike Duffy was that his abuse of public tax dollars did not meet the standard of a criminal act. As a headline in the Toronto Star this weekend says, “The Criminal Code doesn’t make up for a lack of ethics.”

Nothing changes the fact that Senator Duffy pushed his so-called privileges in the Senate to the limit, including charging the services of a personal trainer to taxpayers and funnelling expenses through a third party. Nothing changes the fact that the Senator does not have his principal residence in Prince Edward Island, the province he represents in the Senate. And nothing changes the fact that the Senate itself found that Duffy had expensed $90,000 that he should not have and ordered him to pay it back. As a Senator, Mike Duffy has taken advantage of almost every loophole there was. It was not illegal. It was just plain wrong and it sure doesn’t pass the smell test.

It was almost amusing to watch many in the media back pedal like there was no tomorrow after Mike Duffy was cleared of all criminal charges. Pundits, who for months and months have almost salivated and certainly dined out on Duffy’s woes, suddenly paint him as the victim. After all, he was one of their own long before he took a Conservative handout and it is much more fun to aim their guns at the Harper regime, even though for all political purposes, they are dead and gone. None of that however, changes or excuses Senator Duffy’s behaviour in the Red Chamber.

The P.M.O.

Did Harper’s PMO screw up during the Duffy/Senate scandal? You betcha. But let’s put that in perspective, too. First of all, Prime Minister Harper, from day one, was not a fan of the Senate. In fact, he actually pushed hard for Senate reform. When he failed in that, he appointed Senators who were not party hacks, such as journalists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin and Olympic skier Nancy Greene. That, too, backfired on him so when he learned that one of his own appointees had been found by his Senate colleagues to be charging expenses he should not have, it is no surprise that the P.M. would tell him to pay them back.

It is also no surprise that the Prime Minister’s Office tried to distance themselves and the Prime Minister as far away from this scandal as they could. The fact that they failed miserably and actually exacerbated it is another issue. Every political leader’s office, of all stripes, has an “issues management” team whose job it is to get ahead of potential damaging issues, protect the leader and, when in power, the Government. That is a fundamental function of the PMO, has been for decades and is now in the office of Prime Minister Trudeau.

Harper’s PMO did not misspend a cent of Senate expenses. Mike Duffy did. No one, except perhaps the media, sought Duffy out to be a fall guy. He caused the problem in the first place. Hard as others might try, he is not the victim here. That being said, the manner in which the guys in short pants in the PMO managed the affair was a disaster. No one comes away from this squeaky clean.

The Senate

So what has actually changed in the Senate as a result of all this? Not a great deal in my view, although at long last it looks like some of the spending rules will be tightened up. But Mike Duffy is back in his seat, probably contemplating a cushy book deal if not a civil suit against all and sundry. While Mike Duffy (thanks to his then friend Nigel Wright) has paid back his disallowed expenses, seven retired Senators have not, five of whom, by the way, are Liberals.

The so-called Senate reforms will not work. The Senate is not and never will be non-partisan. By the nature of their mandate they cannot be. To call Liberal Senators “Independent Liberal Senators” is an oxymoron. If you are a Liberal or for that matter a Conservative, by definition, you are not independent. As for the new Independent Senators appointed by the Prime Minister, time will tell if they really are, but early signs are not positive. The Senator appointed to guide government legislation through the Upper Chamber (how can he be independent?) has already caucused with the other rookies and quite likely considers it his job to have them support the government that appointed them.

To me, this is little more than window dressing. Nothing has really changed. Over the years, there have been some distinguished members of the Senate who do not deserve to be tarnished by a systemic, self-righteous sense of entitlement of some of its members, on both sides of the aisle. However, as this inappropriate, self -serving behaviour has become more prevalent and more exposed, they have indeed become tarnished, along with the entire Upper Chamber.

The damage to the Senate in its current form, in my view, is irreparable and perhaps that is what Senator Duffy and those like him should be remembered for.

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  1. Jean Bagshaw on

    Thank you for your insightful comments about the senate.

    I believe that all humans will take advantage of any rewards they can get their hands on and therefore there has to be oversight and penalties for abuse of the system. I think that there has been a failure of administrative management and as with any business or organization, things need to be tightened up to ensure that there are fewer loopholes and more likelihood of snaring the rodents.

  2. Dennis Jordan on

    The Globe & Mail editorial page (April 25) begs to differ with you and says Mr. Duffy has done nothing ethically wrong whatsoever. Mr. Harper and Co should be investigated.

  3. James H Boyes on

    I believe Duffy acted within well established norms of behaviour during his short time in the senate. Whether we think it was ethical is another matter.
    The judge obviously bought the testimony given under oath and under enormous scrutiny. He acquitted on all 31 counts. That does say something.
    Duffy sought advice from several parties including the Prime Minister
    and acted within his understanding of the allowable parameters of behaviour. The parameters admittedly provide a lot of latitude but thems’ the rules at the moment. Rules or lack of them are what was at issue, not ethics.
    Duffy, having been found innocent before the law (which was the criterion in the court case), survived a harrowing experience before the court and was almost universally pilloried and hounded by the pitiless press. To say he suffered extreme stress is an understatement.
    His next move should be to rise in the senate on a point of privilege and demand an apology from the senate and ask if there is any among them who dares to claim that she or he is totally free of guilt. He should demand his legal costs. He should claim his full back pay and restoration of his pension entitlements. Then he should declare that he is going on indefinite stress leave as he is suffering from PTSD and exhaustion.
    Having been so universally accused and reviled and abandoned by his colleagues he and they would find it extremely awkward should he attempt to resume his seat.
    I doubt any would speak against him.
    A lawsuit is another matter. He might be better to avoid that forum.

  4. With due respect, I find it’s very interesting that no one lays any blame at the feet of the media. I seem to remember several news anchors and reporters who were almost gleeful in their condemnation of Mr. Duffy. Neither he nor the PMO are blameless, however I suspect reactions were tempered with what was being reported minute after minute.

  5. Hugh Holland on

    How sad that Duffy and a few others in the highest office in the land , would demonstrate such poor ethical judgement when they should be setting an example for society. If we all did that, what kind of a country would we have?

  6. Hugh great piece. Very well put. Any supporter of The Trudeau Liberals should understand lack of ethics and waste of taxpayers money. I am willing to bet Trudeau has already spent more money on self indulgence in his first 6 months than Harper spent in his last 4 years. A winter ski vacation on our nickel as well as a Caribbean Vacation. The Liberals have already taken two retreats one to the East Coast and now one to the west. Makes Duffy’s $90,000.00 look like a deal. I understand now why they needed so many Billions in their budget.

  7. Dale Peacock on

    Good column Hugh, although maybe you were a little too ‘easy’ on the former P.M. Gerald Caplan’s Globe and Mail comment was spot on: “Any senator who took advantage of ambiguous Senate regulations and erred on the side of abusing their public trust was guilty of something. Even if it wasn’t a criminal offence, at least it deserved an embarrassing public rebuke instead of the total whitewash that Justice Charles Vaillancourt gifted Senator Duffy.”
    We all know (or should) that an act doesn’t have to be criminal to be just plain wrong.

  8. A curious case once again. Tried in the media with one result and then tried in a court with a completely different result! One wonders “can we trust the media?”
    I think Hugh has hit the nail pretty straight and several of the comments confirm and amplify this (Debi & John Davis, Hugh Holland and Dale Peacock all have good points)
    Although it may take a lot more time, I think this episode is just one more nail in the coffin that our current Senate will eventually be placed into.
    Although the concept of the Senate, a sober second take on legislation passed in the House of Commons seemed like a great idea in 1867 I’m wondering if this old Senate has maybe passed it’s usefulness and should be replaced with something more modern, something that still provides the sober oversight but that actually works better.

    As for the comments about Trudeau and the Liberal expenses. Can someone please tell me why we pay to have a perfectly good, and fairly well equipped parliamentary complex in Ottawa and then feel the need to take all the critical staff to commercial hotels at the far ends of the country in order to have a meeting?
    It smells when they do this. The G-8 at Deerhurst accomplished nothing that could not have been done in an existing venue like maybe the UN building in New York at a vastly lower cost. These kind of meetings are a combination of grandstanding by local politicians and a thinly veiled and government funded “holiday” for the attendees. Nothing is gained that could not have been done in an existing government office or meeting hall.

  9. Wow, we see the “ethically guilty” note re: Duffy, but where is your concern for all that offshore money that should be taxed. What about the “ethically guiltt” That have part time, low wage, precarious workers that we tax payers are asked to top up, well into retirement, with costly social supports, while profit take goes up or offshore! Let’s cover all “ethically guilty” including you and I that pump the lowest price, max profit take mantra.

  10. An elected Senate is, and has always been, the only viable solution. “Rep by pop” should be instituted, and a great deal of thought should be expended on their term of service. It would seem to be patently obvious that sitting Senators could only be removed through attrition; as golden parachutes are out of the question in this economy. Of course, this would make the transition period lengthy and problematic: but any truly worthwhile endeavour will never be accomplished overnight.

    I realize that this suggestion ranks at the bottom of all lists of original thought, but that does not make it wrong. It only means that it has been suggested as a solution several times in the past. Perhaps, its time as a suggestion has run its course and it should be considered seriously as a remedy.

  11. Well said. The senate should be abolished. Lets get the wheels turning politicians, this whole deal has been a disgrace.

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