It’s as black and white as it gets — though you’d never know that from the course events have taken since the senator’s celebrity trial ended.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not might take an interest in in Sen. Leo Housakos and his ill-considered attempt to add double jeopardy to the Senate’s list of ongoing, abject failings.
Despite Duffy’s sweeping acquittal last month by Justice Charles Vaillancourt on all 31 criminal charges, the Senate’s current chair of the Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration has been moiling to have Duffy’s “dossier” reviewed by his committee. (Does Housakos think it makes Duffy somehow shadier to use the word “dossier?”)
Housakos asked for all of Duffy’s expenses from 2009 to 2013 from the Senate finance directorate — the same expenses that were put under the microscope at trial and were found to be within the rules.
Senate official Nicole Proulx assisted the RCMP and its forensic analysts as they pored over years of Duffy’s expenses provided by the Senate for the police investigation. What could they have found now that could be ‘problematical’ in Duffy’s case but (one assumes) perfectly OK for other senators?
Just before the verdict was issued in the Duffy trial, Housakos put out a statement which read, in part, “in the event Senator Duffy is acquitted on all counts, he will immediately be reinstated to the Senate as a member in full standing with full pay and access to all office resources. Senator Duffy will be allowed to take his seat in the Chamber at the next scheduled sitting.”
Take note: That statement made no mention at all of subjecting Duffy’s expenses to another Senate review — in effect, double jeopardy.
Instead of turning the page, Housakos is trying to turn the page back. Here’s what is on the table: Out of the $124,000 in travel expenses and contracts examined by the RCMP — the spending that provided the foundation for its charges against Duffy — Housakos wants his committee to review $56,546 in travel and $16,995 in contracts.
For Conservatives, this is a very dangerous enterprise. For one thing, a significant portion of the travel expenses Housakos wants reviewed were incurred by Sen. Duffy at the behest of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. Duffy nearly overdosed on rubber chicken while raising money for his boss and his party. And as we all heard during the trial, a senator’s partisan activities were considered to be a legitimate — even a required — part of his duties. All the Conservatives can get out of this is more embarrassment.
Despite his lawyer’s less-than-convincing claims, Stephen Harper’s image came out of the Duffy trial with two black eyes and a split lip. On Duffygate, Harper told more fairy tales than Hans Christian Anderson. Harper allowed a man to stand trial on multiple criminal charges without saying a word in his defence, even though he told Duffy that he was operating within the rules of the Senate — rules Harper saw as inexplicable to the voters in the Conservative base.
Harper was the one who appointed Duffy from P.E.I., over Duffy’s own objections, knowing full well the constitutional implications of Duffy’s actual residence. Harper knew — or should have known — that his own office was up to its neck in the dirty business of pushing Duffy’s appointment for its own benefit — as the judge found. The PMO breached the confidentiality of a Senate audit and ordered changes to a Senate report during an RCMP investigation into some of the same issues raised in it. How does that not qualify as obstruction of justice?
The operative idea here seems to be that if Conservatives in the Senate can find Duffy guilty of something — anything — it will have a restorative effect on Harper’s soiled reputation, and take the sting out of Judge Vaillancourt’s otherwise devastating verdict.
Housakos has done his best to make this blatant partisan manoeuvre look like a pan-Senate initiative. He has sent the Senate’s chief financial officer to brief Independent and former Liberal senators on the new Duffy ‘problem’. The Internal Economy Board and its fifteen members might be tempted to levy a bill for $73,521 against the senator — but they won’t dare do it until after the appeal period for the Crown in the Duffy case passes on May 21.
They shouldn’t do it at all. The Senate already has wrongfully withheld two years of Duffy’s salary — $155,667.56 after taxes, money he has made no moves to recover, despite his lawyer’s advice.
And finally, Housakos is attempting to drag Duffy’s much-examined expenses before his committee in the same dictatorial fashion that originally led to the suspensions without pay of Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau in 2013.
Despite the fact that his reputation and behaviour are once more being talked about in the Senate, no one from either Housakos’s office or the Senate’s finance directorate has spoken to Duffy about any alleged problems with his expenses. No one.
Before casting their lot with Housakos, every senator should remember that one of the best reporters in Ottawa, Althia Raj of the Huffington Post, wrote that Housakos was seen leaking Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s report into Senate expenses five days before it was tabled. That hurt a lot of people. Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette called the leak a “historically grave” breach. Raj also reported from another source that Leaking Leo had done “a lot of damage … He has maneuvered in such a way that the Conservatives’ ideology and approach to communications is secure in the communications directorate.”
Nor should it be forgotten that a lot of the people who still want to judge Mike Duffy were picked up in AG Ferguson’s review of Senate expense abuses: Housakos, Claude Carignan, Jim Cowan and David Tkachuk. The Conservative leadership, of course, had devised a chequebook solution for their own transgressions, as well as recourse to a review by former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie.
The whole thing would be comical if it were not so serious.
The Crown Prosecutor’s office got every single one of its 31 criminal charges against Duffy wrong. I haven’t seen one intelligent article playing off that sad and distressing fact.
The RCMP, meanwhile, put their incompetence on public display by holding a splashy press conference when the charges were laid. Since then, they’ve stood down from all their Senate investigations and have declined to comment on their horrible work.
The Conservative Senate leadership of the day pimped itself out to the PMO, fiddling its own reports to suit the brain trust around Harper’s former chief of staff, the disgraced Nigel Wright. No one has seriously questioned their ability to judge anyone.
If the current Conservative leadership in the Senate wants to sink the institution even lower in the public’s estimation than the Harper PMO, all it has to do is keep pursuing Duffy as though his trial never took place.
They forget: You can only get so much blood out of a scapegoat.
Author: Michael Harris