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Welcome back to 2013: the return of the Mike Duffy expense scandal


By Laura Bohnert

We all thought the expense controversy died out when Harper got ousted, but now Mike Duffy is seeking damages for his high-profile investigation and eventual suspension over the expenses trial.

It all began in 2008, when then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper advised that Mike Duffy be named a Prince Edward Island representative to the Senate. Duffy retired as a TV journalist and was introduced to the Senate in January of 2009, where he sat as a member of the Conservative party.

So began the big expense controversy of 2013. Duffy was among four senators (also featuring Pamela Wallin, Mac Harb, and Patrick Brazeau) who were caught claiming primary residency outside of Ottawa in order to claim living expenses for time spent working in Ottawa.

Since Duffy was appointed to represent PEI in the Senate, he alleges that he was justified for his claim, but that didn’t stop him from appearing alongside the other musketeers in a 2013 forensic audit. Reeling from the negative public attention, the now-notorious ex-celebrity decided to be the bigger man (literally and figuratively) by volunteering to pay back the expenses he had claimed for his Ottawa residence—using a $90,172 cheque that was “gifted” to him by Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, Nigel Wright.

Of course, the step didn’t get past the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada, who opened an investigation into the so-called gift in May of 2013. Duffy promptly resigned from Caucus to become an independent senator, but in November of the same year was suspended by the Senate—without pay.

The RCMP charged Duffy with 31 offences in July of 2014—not-so-coincidentally right in the midst of Harper’s campaign for the 2015 Canadian federal election. While Duffy’s lawyer accused Wright of attempting to form, in Duffy, Harper’s scapegoat for growing public uncertainty, many still consider the Duffy trials to be the inciting incident to Harper’s fall from public grace and political power.

Following Trudeau’s rise to powerin 2016, Duffy was acquitted of all charges. He immediately resumed his seat in Senate—but the scandal is far from over.

On August 24, 2017, Duffy, apparently dissatisfied with the petty revenge of sparking Harper’s defeat, filed a lawsuit against the Senate, and against the RCMP. According to Duffy, RCMP negligence is obviated by the fact that there were no reasonable grounds to charge him for those 31 offences.

While it would complete the dramatic irony for Duffy to sue for the amount of $90,172, the damages he claims to have suffered slightly exceed that amount; Duffy’s civil lawsuit rounds out at a moderate $8 million.

His ambition? On top of seeking retribution (now that he’s had his revenge) for the stress and financial damage he claims to have suffered alongside both his family and the other senators who were “unfairly targeted”—damages that he claims point to problems at the heart of our democracy—Duffy says his action is intended to bring charter protections to all who work on Parliament Hill.

Forget the taxpayers; these are the real victims of government spending scandals.

Of course, he must be right; that must be just what this country needs. I’m sure all Canadian taxpayers will agree that the best way to protect their finances is to ensure Senate spending can’t be so easily called into question. That’s just the ticket: less transparency all around—I’m sure Trump would emphatically agree. What’s next? Controlling that pesky false news? Kind of an ironic step considering Duffy’s past career choice, isn’t it?

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