When Mike Duffy was hand-picked by the Prime Minister in 2008 to sit as a senator, he apparently never imagined himself to be a "PMO puppet." Nor did he see himself in such stark terms when he accepted a cheque for more than $90,000 from the Prime Minister's chief of staff to repay ineligible housing expense claims, and another cheque for a further $13,500, allegedly to cover his legal expenses. He also considered himself unattached to the Prime Minister's Office when, as he claims, he was told to say that he had borrowed money from the Royal Bank of Canada to repay his expenses.
"Are we independent senators or PMO puppets?" Mr. Duffy asked in the Senate on Monday as he revealed the existence of a second cheque – the funds for which he said he believes came from donations to the Conservative Party – and claimed he had been ordered by the PMO to lie about a non-existent bank loan. He asked his colleagues if they were independent from the PMO, while once again claiming to have been, at least until recently, in a state of total dependence on the PMO.
Mr. Duffy's main line of defence has now come down to this: I was only following orders. He essentially argued that he was a creature of the PMO, doing its bidding and relying on its graces to charge taxpayers for expenses that had no justification. He claimed to be a small cog in a big scheme cooked up in the PMO's office, and more victim than beneficiary. His asserted conversion from marionette to whistleblower is self-serving and obnoxious.
But is there any truth to it? Troubling questions were raised in the Senate, and their subject was not Mr. Duffy's already impeached character. Was he, as he claims, following scripts authored by the Prime Minister's Office?
The allegations made in the Senate are grave. How far did the people surrounding Prime Minister Stephen Harper go in covering up Mr. Duffy's politically damaging expense claims? Why did a lawyer connected to the Conservative Party pay a legal invoice in the amount of $13,500, and how was Mr. Duffy able to table a copy of the cheque and its covering letter in the Senate? Where did the money come from? Is there any truth to Mr. Duffy's insistence that the PMO had quietly condoned the housing expenses Mr. Harper has unequivocally stated were unjustified? What did PMO staff know about the Duffy file, when did they know, what did they do about it, and what, if anything, did they tell the Prime Minister?
The Harper government must make public all documents related to Mr. Duffy and fully explain its actions. It must stop the steady erosion of its credibility.