December 13, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
OTTAWA -- Mike Duffy once promised his side of the story on his dealings with the Prime Minister's Office and the $90,000 payment of contested expenses.
On Monday, his lawyer helped break the senator's silence with what he called "the tip of the iceberg" of evidence.
Donald Bayne spent nearly an hour alleging Prime Minister Stephen Harper's staff and key Conservative senators developed a scheme to have Duffy take the fall for wrongdoing even they agreed he had not done.
Harper, meanwhile, continued to lay blame for the matter Monday on a single person -- his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
"The whole political decision-making about this has been a fiasco," Bayne told reporters.
"From the get-go, rather than letting the truth out, that there are flaws in the Senate system and rules, it's the old story. The coverup is always more damaging than the original issue."
Duffy is facing the threat of suspension without pay from the upper chamber for "gross negligence" in the management of resources, along with colleagues Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Conservative motions are expected to be introduced today.
Last week, Wallin's lawyer also lashed out at the Conservatives and said legal options would be considered if the suspension occurred.
Bayne said Duffy never submitted any improper expense claims under the rules, borne out by an independent audit and in communications Duffy had with senior Tories. At issue was Duffy's designation of a house in Prince Edward Island as his primary residence and the living expenses he claimed for his Ottawa home.
The lawyer quoted from a letter by former Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton in January 2009, in which she allegedly tells Duffy "Senate residency is not defined" anywhere in the rules. LeBreton could not immediately confirm whether she wrote such a letter.
Duffy also allegedly received an email from Wright in December 2012, when stories emerged suggesting Duffy spent little time at his P.E.I. residence.
"I am told that you have complied with all the applicable rules and there will be several senators with similar arrangements," Wright allegedly wrote. "This sure seems to be a smear."
By the following April, auditors at Deloitte had concluded a review of Duffy's living expenses and said residency rules weren't clear.
Another Conservative, Sen. John Wallace of the ethics committee, also allegedly wrote a memo saying the residency rules were not clear and quoted from a Senate handbook on the matter. Wallace's office said Monday he had no comment.
Bayne said Duffy was then told by the Prime Minister's Office that although his expenses were above board, he would have to repay four years' worth to appease Tory voters.
When Duffy objected, Bayne said the Prime Minister's Office threatened to oust him by having a Senate committee declare his residency situation ineligible.
"So that's the hammer. The threat seems obvious: You take the dive, or this subcommittee will throw you out on the residency issue before you've had any kind of hearing," Bayne said.
Wright's payment of $90,000 to cover Duffy's expenses was never the senator's idea, he added.
"The payment of $90,000 was not the doing of Sen. Duffy. It was a political tactic forced on him by the Prime Minister's Office."
When the Deloitte audit came out in early May, the Tory-dominated committee dealing with the matter released an initial report uncritical of Duffy's expense claims.
Bayne also alleged the Prime Minister's Office effectively coached Duffy not to co-operate fully with the independent auditors and told him what to say to the media.
Duffy's lawyer did not provide reporters with copies of the emails and memos he read from, saying they would come out in the course of a trial should one occur.
-- The Canadian Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2013 A6