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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, posted this picture from Peru on his Facebook page in September, 2013.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, posted this picture from Peru on his Facebook page in September, 2013.

Behind Nigel Wright's fateful decision that darkened the Senate Add to ...

Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy spoke again by telephone on Feb. 19, and Mr. Duffy was again arguing his position that his primary residence is in PEI. He told reporters in PEI that morning the same thing. Speaking out for the first time since the residency questions began, he explained that he spent time at his Cavendish cottage in summer but his winters in Charlottetown. “I’m confident that in the end it will all turn out. Canadians know I’m an honest man and that I wouldn’t cheat on my expenses,” Mr. Duffy said.

When Mr. Wright told him that his claim did not hold water, Mr. Duffy finally explained that he didn’t have the money to make the repayment even if he wanted to.

That threw all of the negotiations up in the air.

A deal is struck

By Feb. 20, Mr. Wright was getting more than a little fed up with Mr. Duffy, who was asking to see a written analysis of why he was not entitled to the claims. Mr. Wright fired back that they might have to speak “only through lawyers going forward.”

Senator David Tkachuk, the chair of the Red Chamber’s internal economy committee, then called Mr. Wright to suggest that if Mr. Duffy would write a letter to Deloitte admitting his mistake and asking how much he needed to repay, the internal economy committee would stop the audit. Mr. Wright agreed that was a reasonable solution.

On Feb. 21, Mr. Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne, wrote to the PMO saying Mr. Duffy would agree to repay the money, provided the internal economy committee confirmed that Mr. Duffy had been withdrawn from the audit and that he would not be subject to any further review.

She also insisted: “As his apparent ineligibility for the housing allowance stems from his time on the road on behalf of the party, there will be an arrangement to keep him whole on the repayment.”

In less legal language, Mr. Wright had to find the money to pay Mr. Duffy before Mr. Duffy would pay back the amount owed.

Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein, the chair of the Conservative Fund of Canada, had previously approached Mr. Wright to ask if he could assist in any way. So, on Feb. 22, Mr. Wright called Mr. Gerstein and inquired whether the fund would pay expenses, which he still believed were about $32,000. Mr. Gerstein confirmed it would.

On Feb. 23, Mr. Duffy was before the television cameras saying he might have made a mistake and would repay the thousands of dollars he claimed improperly.

Wright writes $90,172.24 cheque

But Mr. Wright’s problems were anything but over. On Feb. 26, he learned Mr. Duffy had been charging meals and per diems – and that the bill would be roughly $80,000, rather than $32,000.

“I am beyond furious. This will all be repaid,” Mr. Wright wrote in one e-mail.

The next day, the final tab came in – $90,172.24. Whatever deal to have the party pay was off.

By March 8, he had decided to pay it himself. Mr. Wright told police why he wrote the cheque: He is financially comfortable and it was his global view that taxpayers should not be on the hook for the money. When he travelled for work, he chose to pay his own expenses, he told police. He did not view his decision to pay for Mr. Duffy as something out of the norm – it was part of being a good person.

On May 10, CTV reported that the RCMP was looking into the travel and housing expenses of Mr. Duffy, Mr. Harb and Mr. Brazeau – a report that was confirmed three days later.

News of the cheque was about to be revealed. On May 14, Andrew MacDougall, who was then Mr. Harper’s director of communications, sent an e-mail to Mr. Wright saying he had received a request from a reporter about Mr. Wright signing a loan to repay the money for Mr. Duffy.

“Would the PM know the actual answer to the question, just in case he asked us,” asked Press Secretary Carl Vallee.

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