'Wait," Mike Duffy said in his last speech in the Senate, back in 2013, when he claimed Stephen Harper's PMO had railroaded him. "There is even more."
He wasn't kidding. On Thursday, Justice Charles Vaillancourt acquitted Senator Duffy on all 31 charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. And in a sense, he convicted Mr. Harper's PMO.
It wasn't Mr. Duffy who benefited when Nigel Wright, Mr. Harper's chief of staff, cut a $90,172 cheque to cover the senator's expense bill, the judge found. The real beneficiaries were "Nigel Wright, the PMO, the prime minister, and the Conservative Party of Canada," because it helped them get rid of a political embarrassment, the judge declared. And their own e-mails showed they used intimidation to force the senator into their damage-control scheme.
"The political, covert, relentless, unfolding of events is mind-boggling and shocking," Justice Vaillancourt said. "The precision and planning of the exercise would make any military commander proud. However, in the context of a democratic society, the plotting as revealed in the e-mails can only be described as unacceptable."
This was Mr. Duffy's revenge. He contributed to Mr. Harper's election downfall last October. Now, Mr. Duffy can head back to the Senate as soon as Tuesday, and take his seat for another five years. And the Prime Minister's Office that served Stephen Harper was given a stinging condemnation.
Back in his 2013 speech, Mr. Duffy, trying to persuade fellow senators not to suspend him from the Red Chamber, outlined his claims that the Prime Minister's Office was punishing him for refusing to play ball in a damage-control scheme. They knew he hadn't really broken the rules, or the law, but concocted an apology scenario for him, offered to help him pay, and coerced him to go along, he said.
Justice Vaillancourt adopted that Duffy version of events almost entirely.
In fact, the judge went out of his way to rule that if Mr. Duffy had been guilty of taking a bribe – and he was not – the conviction would have been stayed on the grounds it was an error induced by Mr. Harper's PMO and the Conservative leadership in the Senate.
In some cases, Justice Vaillancourt found Mr. Duffy relied on the advice of senior Conservatives in filing some of the controversial expense claims. He declared his cottage in Prince Edward Island as his primary residence, and claimed travel expenses when at his long-time home in Ottawa. Justice Vaillancourt noted Mr. Harper told him before his appointment as a PEI senator that his cottage would be his residence, and make him eligible; Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, on the board of internal economy, which oversees Senate administration, told him to file travel expense claims when in Ottawa.
But when Mr. Duffy's expenses became an embarrassment, the Prime Minister's Office moved to eliminate a political thorn with "ruthless efficiency," the judge said. The e-mails that provided a glimpse of that campaign shocked Justice Vaillancourt, as did the indication that the PMO asked then-Conservative senator Irving Gerstein to contact auditors looking into the Senate expense scandal, with the hope of getting an advance peek of their report, or to influence it.
"Was Nigel Wright actually ordering senior members of the Senate around as if they were mere pawns on a chessboard? Were those same senior members of the Senate meekly acquiescing to Mr. Wright's orders? Were those same senior members of the Senate robotically marching forth to recite their provided scripted lines?" Justice Vaillancourt asked.
"Did Nigel Wright really direct a senator to approach a senior member of an accounting firm that was conducting an independent audit of the Senate with the intention to either get a peek at the report or part of the report prior to its release to the appropriate Senate authorities or to influence that report in anyway?"
The answer to all those questions, Justice Vaillancourt found, was yes.
Mr. Duffy was right, back in 2013, just before his suspension. There was even more. His claims that he was sacrificed to a ruthless damage-control campaign were upheld by a court. His fight-back, as he hinted then, revealed ugly elements that hurt Mr. Harper. And for the record, a judge found Mr. Harper's inner circle guilty of shocking behaviour.