The Senator in August

It should have happened in April.   Maybe we’d all understand the Mike Duffy trial better if it had taken place during Canada’s cruelest month; the one when we’re all trudging through sleet and slop to our accountants clutching a bag of receipts.   It should have happened in April when we’re clutching that bag so tightly it would appear that our very lives depended on stopping the biting winds from racing off with  our little white lies.

In April when the term “benefit of the doubt” rings louder than Ottawa’s carillon on briny Bank Street and everywhere else we go through that second set of books determined to be ever so fair to ourselves.   In April we just might be able to extend a bit of that fairness for a senator fighting to stay out of jail.

In the past couple of years we’ve been exposed to an exhaustive amount of information about Mike Duffy’s expenses.   We’ve heard about that cottage in which the Mounties believe he never lived.

We’ve heard that everyone, including the Prime Minister who appointed him as a Senator required to live in PEI, knew Duffy actually lived in Ottawa since the 1970’s.

Every editorial cartoonist in the land has taken a shot at his circumstances.   The suspended Senator’s weight problems have made him the caricature embodiment of the so-called “fat cat” capital where ministers and mandarins live excessively on your dime.   Only  a few remember back when Duffy’s shape made him the little everyman reporter, “the Duff”, who could drag the nation’s nose into the dark, rank , corners where the Ottawa deals were done.

If his trial had only happened in April when we all tally up our own expenses we might have paid a little less attention to Duffy’s ordeal and more to the deal itself.

We are left with the impression that Mike Duffy fled the pinnacle of broadcasting to the open-armed embrace of the country’s treasurer.   Firmly ensconced in the chamber red as its ledgers, Duffy immediately pulled out his shears and made us wool-free say the Mounties.  Wool-free except for that  little strip we like to pull over our own eyes when we deal with paying for public service.

Not talked about at all through all of this is what Duffy left behind.

28 years ago I was one of the people responsible for luring Mike away from stellar career at the CBC.  The bait at CTV was a higher profile and a better payday.   To be clear, almost three decades ago Duffy was making a helluva lot more than any senator.   On top of that he had a rock star expense account.

To listen to the Mounties and Duffy’s detractors is to believe that he left all of that to fleece the public out of less than half of what he earned in television.  On top of that he left TV to be handcuffed to an expense account open to miserly pundits and the public resentful of  every nickel spent as though trips through the political trenches were holidays to Hawaii.

You won’t hear much about Duffy’s lack of motive in Ottawa this week because Duffy has become the poster child for the politically radioactive and any sense of fairness is drowned out by the cicada-like clicking of the Geiger counters of those who would be re-elected.

If this trial had been held in April things might be different.  We’d all understand that Mike took the deal that was offered.   He claimed expenses for living in Ottawa because the fuzzy rules said he could and advisors in the senate agreed.    The best auditors in the land were brought in to try to determine the truth in that and they shrugged and reported they couldn’t make hide nor tail out of the red chamber’s rules.

“But even if he could- he shouldn’t have” became the new cry.   Right.

There are other rules to which every party in Ottawa demands obedience.  And Duffy was loyal right up to the day he was suspended by a lot of Senators trying to save their own bacon in a house made of pork.

And now in August we are faced with the spectacle of a former PMO chief of staff admitting he thought Duffy shouldn’t have made the claims even though he might be entitled to them.    So Mr. Wright cut the Senator a personal cheque instead of some slack because he feared the political fallout from a public that has grown to believe its servants should work for little or nothing.

In April when everyone wallows in the late snow and the slush and in the gray areas of the tax code everything could have been so different.  We all go for the best deal we can get.   So did the Duff.  The only difference is- he’s on trial.