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Politics Duffy diaries long on party business, short on sober second thought

A calendar is rarely exhaustive, but the contents of Mike Duffy’s diary suggest his role as senator was more in celebrity public performances than in pondering policy for the Senate’s supposed role of sober second thought.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

If you poke through Mike Duffy's schedules, entered into evidence at his fraud trial, it seems clear that he was, as his lawyer put it, a particular kind of senator.

Mr. Duffy's diaries of his appointments and tasks include notes about the news of the day, but they are most notable for what gets short shrift: public policy, and the legislative business of the land.

Instead, there are far more entries devoted to media interviews and public events, and especially to a long string of appearances at Conservative riding-association meetings and fundraisers.

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A calendar is rarely exhaustive, but the contents of Mr. Duffy's diary suggest his role as senator was more in celebrity public performances than in pondering policy for the Senate's supposed role of sober second thought. That is, to a certain extent, how Donald Bayne, Mr. Duffy's defence lawyer, has described it, too.

Mr. Bayne asserted, in his opening statement this week, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper quickly handed Mr. Duffy a role as a front man selling the so-called Economic Action Plan, a catchphrase first created by the Conservative government to promote stimulus spending. Mr. Bayne also noted the suspended senator was in hot demand from the PMO and Conservative MPs to appear at political events.

And he did. From the start, Mr. Duffy travelled from town to town to talk to Tories.

He took office in January of 2009, and by the end of the month had attended the PEI Conservative annual meeting. On Feb. 20 and 21, he spoke to Conservative riding associations in the PEI constituency of Egmont, home of Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, and nearby Malpeque. He continued to regularly attend such riding meetings, Tory events and fundraisers, travelling across the country.

After flying back from a weeklong trip to Britain in March, 2009, with the Canada-Britain parliamentary association – some sightseeing, some meetings – he landed in Toronto and went straight to Cambridge, Ont., for the Galt riding dinner for local MP Gary Goodyear, then minister of state for science and technology. He even did a radio interview on the way.

Sometimes the Senate paid for travel, and sometimes his hosts paid, according to court documents. For example, on May 9 and 10, 2009, he submitted a claim for $1,358 in air travel from Ottawa to Montreal to Moncton and back to Ottawa. The purpose was listed as a "speaking engagement – Senate related." His hosts paid for accommodations.

The host, according to Mr. Duffy's diary, was New Brunswick Conservative MP Rob Moore, now Minister of State for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, for an appearance at a dinner at the Sussex Golf and Curling Club. It's not a unique example. Is that Senate business? Mr. Bayne suggested this week that partisan matters are covered by the Senate's definition of public business. Perhaps the court will decide.

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At any rate, Mr. Duffy made such appearances for hundreds of provincial and federal Tory politicians, including the Prime Minister. He flew with Mr. Harper to Cambridge in June, 2009, for a key economy-themed event, when it appeared Mr. Harper's government might fall. The diary records several other appearances with the PM and calls from the PMO asking if Mr. Duffy is available.

But there's not a lot of public policy. Illnesses and deaths of friends and acquaintances are recorded, some big news stories are noted, as are Mr. Harper's television interviews, and caucus gossip. But there are just a few substantive events, briefings or meetings about issues. Among them: he attended a Saskatchewan municipalities conference; he stepped in for an absent minister at an event at the Munk School of Global Affairs; there was a lunch where "deregulation" was the topic. He met then-Nova Scotia labour minister Mark Parent about "skills competition," but that was before an appearance at the latter's riding meeting.

He did, apparently, attend Senate sessions. He didn't often note sittings – caucus meetings, and conversations with the PM afterward, were in the diary – but absences are recorded.

But there are a lot of media interviews. On several occasions, he recorded party messages, on videos and for robocalls, aimed at supporters and donors, urging donations, in and out of election campaigns.

It was those tasks, more than sober second thought, that seemed to fill the days of the senator who had a particular role.

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