Friday, April 22, 2016

Duffy acquitted, but Harper and the PMO slammed

After an interminable trial, and even more interminable deliberations (if something can BE more interminable than interminable), Ontario Justice Charles Vaillancourt has somehow managed to find Senator Mike Duffy not guilty of all 31 fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges against him. In fact, the judge found Duffy to be a "credible witness" whose conduct was "reasonable and honest".
Now, I wasn't involved in the court case, nor was I privy to the reams of evidence brought before the court. But I find it a bit difficult to believe that at least some of the charges did not stick. The judge admitted to a "certain uncomfortableness" over some of Duffy's expenses filings, but nothing that amounted to "criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt". In effect, Duffy has merely been acquitted of breaking the all-too-lax rules of the Canadian Senate.
Regarding the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright, the judge argues that Duffy "did not demonstrate a true acceptance of the funds" and that he was effectively "forced into accepting Nigel Wright's funds so that the government could rid itself of an embarrassing political fiasco that just was not going away". I beg to differ: Duffy had a free choice to do the right thing and he chose not to, and so should suffer the consequences. Similarly, in declaring his non-winterized PEI cottage as his primary residence (his justification for so many of the expense claims for trips to Ottawa, where his main home is actually located), it is no excuse to say that he was advised to do so by another senator, as Justice Vaillancourt argues: he had a free choice to do the right and he chose not to.
As for how Duffy can be considered not guilty in claiming expenses for reasons like: to attend the Saanich Fair in BC (which he never actually attended); or a trip to Peterborough to buy a puppy; or to attend the birth of a grandchild; or to spend New Year's Day with family in BC; or to keep a medical appointment in Ottawa (on one of the few times he happened to be in PEI); or to attend the funerals of friends and acquaintances; or the $10,000 paid to a personal trainer/"consultant" - these are personal expenses that should not be borne by the taxpayer. The addition of what the judge euphemistically describes as the "opportunistic acceptance of  a legitimate speaking engagement" does not somehow make them acceptable, notwithstanding Justice Vaillancourt's mealy-mouthed mumblings about "the chicken or the egg".
So, Duffy is reinstated in the Senate, which returns to business-as-usual, including all manner of iffy expense claims, but now with the sanction of the courts. How can that be a desirable outcome? My wife argues that Duffy is forever tainted by the proceedings, in much the same way as individuals exonerated of sexual harassment are forever tainted. But seeing his smug smile and his oh-so-measured comments on the verdict, I'm not so sure that Duffy will suffer too much (and may even benefit from the kudos of beating the system).
Far fom suffering any financial inconvenience, he will almost certainly come out of this with a one-off payment of $270,000 (two years income foregone during the trial), and perhaps even a hefty reimbursement of legal costs. I think he will do quite nicely out of the whole sordid affair.
In fact, the only plus side to the whole trial and verdict comes from the judge's harsh words about the Prime Minister's Office under Stephen Harper, in which he bandies around phrases like, "political covert, relentless", "mind-boggling and shocking" and "ruthless efficiency" with reference to the PMO, and even to Stephen Harper himself. One more official black mark against Stephen Harper's legacy can only be seen as a good thing.

No comments: