WATCH ABOVE: Among the revelations in the Mike Duffy trial are the emails between key players in the Prime Minister’s Office. Some of them directly contradict what Stephen Harper has said. He’s always claimed only two people were responsible for the expense scandal, but the emails show that is not true. Eric Sorensen reports.
Senator Mike Duffy’s trial resumed August 12, and the testimony this week from Crown witness – and former Harper chief of staff – Nigel Wright has been intense, detailed, and perhaps a little confusing.
READ MORE: Novak, Harper’s chief of staff, new focus of attention at Duffy trial
For those suffering Duffy overload, here are the basics to remember:
Why is Mike Duffy on trial?
Duffy faces a total of 31 charges. These include:
A fraud and a breach of trust charge relating to $90,000 of improper expense claims that he filed in relation to his residenceFraud and breach of trust charges relating to $50,000 of expense claims for travel unrelated to Senate businessFraud and breach of trust charges relating to $60,000 of improperly awarded consulting contractsOne charge each of bribery of a judicial officer, frauds on the Government and breach of trust relating to his accepting a $90,000 cheque
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The Mike Duffy trial – how did we get here?
Why does this matter?
Duffy is accused of misusing public money by claiming expenses that he shouldn’t have. It’s a lot of money, and he’s accused of taking it for things like travelling to Conservative party events or for personal trips – essentially charging taxpayers for his travel – and using contract money to pay for personal expenses like a makeup artist and personal trainer.
Why do I care where Duffy lived?
Senators are appointed to represent certain provinces. But they spend much of their time in Ottawa.
Senate rules allow senators to charge up to $22,000 a year for living and travel expenses for a second home in Ottawa, if their primary residence is more than 100km away.
Duffy was officially a senator from PEI, so he claimed over $81,000 in housing and living expenses over about five years. But Duffy had been working and living in Ottawa as a broadcaster for decades before he was appointed to the Senate.
If his primary residence was in PEI, he would be allowed to claim a housing allowance for his secondary residence in Ottawa. If it wasn’t, then he made these claims improperly and took money he shouldn’t have. And he maybe shouldn’t have been a PEI senator in the first place, if he wasn’t a resident of that province.
This is why there’s so much focus on where Duffy spent his time – in Ottawa or PEI. And that’s why Senate officials had been looking into whether he had a PEI health card and driver’s license.
One point of contention at the trial: How do you define a “primary residence”? A Deloitte audit in 2013 mentioned how vague the rules are. Duffy’s lawyer has argued the vagueness of the rules means his client can’t be faulted for his actions.
What’s up with this $90,000 cheque?
When all those possibly improper living expenses – including housing expenses, per diem charges and meals – were added up, with interest, they came to $90,172.24.
The money was repaid, but Duffy didn’t pay it back himself. Instead, Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, paid the $90,000 bill. Wright sent a bank draft to the Receiver General in March, 2013. In April, Duffy publicly said he had repaid the housing expenses. He didn’t mention Wright’s involvement.
That came out in May 2013. After Wright was mentioned in news reports, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Wright had personally footed the bill. Wright left the PMO a few days later; it’s still unclear whether he resigned or was dismissed.
Why does it matter who paid back the money?
As a sitting Senator, Duffy is not allowed to “corruptly” accept money in respect of anything done or not done in his official capacity – to take the money under those circumstances would be bribery. That’s what Duffy is accused of doing.
Interestingly, although Duffy was charged for accepting the money, Wright wasn’t charged for giving it, but it’s unclear why not.
Why did Wright pay money Duffy owed?
In court, Wright testified that he did it because it was the right thing to do and paying the money showed respect for the taxpayers. And, Duffy couldn’t cover the bill himself.
But as emails released in court show, there was a lot of discussion in the Prime Minister’s Office about the public relations disaster that the Senate expenses scandal was becoming, and how to handle it. Duffy’s lawyer has suggested Wright was just trying to make the scandal go away.
Did Stephen Harper know about the potentially illegal payment?
Both Wright and Harper have repeatedly denied that Harper knew about the cheque.
But a lot of Stephen Harper’s close staff were involved in the Duffy affair. Wright was Harper’s chief of staff at the time. His current chief of staff, Ray Novak, is copied on and wrote several emails talking about Duffy. Harper was also sent a memo about Duffy, explaining that the PMO had worked on a plan for him to return money – though it did not mention that Wright had paid Duffy’s bill. An email from Wright mentioned, “The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses.”
What happens next?
Wright is still being cross-examined by Duffy’s lawyer, and more witnesses are expected. This phase of the trial should wrap up August 28.