Stephen Harper’s lawyer says Sen. Mike Duffy’s acquittal should be a wake-up call to public institutions and authorities that can hold politicians “to live up to their duty” and punish actions that are questionable, even if they’re not criminal.
But both the auditor general and the Senate say there’s nothing more for them to do in Duffy’s case.
The office of federal auditor general Michael Ferguson says it won’t audit Duffy’s spending or other senator’s expenses unless the Senate makes a specific request.
As for the Senate, it has already punished Duffy. He faced an audit, his expenses were repaid and then he was suspended without pay for two years, forfeiting more than $250,000.
In a statement, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos and Liberal Sen. Jane Cordy, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate committee that oversees spending, said Duffy, senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau “were audited by Deloitte and were dealt with accordingly, including reimbursement of funds and suspension.”
In an op-ed written for Postmedia newspapers, Harper’s lawyer Robert Staley wrote that Harper “stood to account for the ethical behaviour” in his office and government, adding it is “hard to imagine how this responsibility could have been borne more acutely.”
He argued that other “authorities that can hold individuals to account” must “live up to their duty and define the consequence of behaviour that falls short of criminal.”
Staley wrote that the former prime minister played no role in the decision by the RCMP and Crown attorneys to charge and prosecute Duffy.
He said it’s impossible to believe Harper’s interests were well-served by a raft of criminal charges that culminated in a politically charged, high-profile trial during an election year.
The trial peeled away the veil of secrecy around the Prime Minister’s Office and revealed how much power and influence the officials of Harper’s PMO wielded in the halls of Parliament.
Hundreds of emails presented as evidence detailed how much energy the PMO invested in dealing with Duffy’s politically problematic expense claims.
Justice Charles Vaillancourt said the PMO forced the Prince Edward Island senator to go along with their repayment scheme, even though Duffy maintained he had done nothing wrong.
Staley said Harper never asserted that Duffy had been engaged in criminal wrongdoing — only that his spending habits were politically unacceptable.
“It was, and is, my client’s view that public office demands a higher standard than conduct that falls short of criminality,” Staley wrote.
“The public has a reasonable expectation and indeed a right, to the responsible stewardship of its purse by public institutions and actors.”
Justice Vaillancourt acquitted Duffy of all 31 fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges last week, saying the Crown failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Vaillancourt said that Duffy’s actions weren’t criminal, even if they raised eyebrows, including a consulting contract provided to Duffy’s one-time personal trainer.
After the acquittal, the Senate restored Duffy to full standing, giving him access to all the resources of his office.
Staley said he didn’t expect the Crown to win a conviction on the bribery charge, which stemmed from a controversial $90,000 payment on Duffy’s behalf from Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright. Staley wrote that his “private views” on the matter “were shared only with my client.”
In an email to The Canadian Press, Staley declined to comment further, saying he wanted the op-ed to stand as his only comments.
The Conservatives fell to official Opposition status in the October election after almost a decade in power, with Harper stepping down as leader but not as an MP.