When Mike Duffy was first picked to be a senator by Prime Minister Stephen Harper he said he wasn't partisan and wasn't even a Conservative.
But emails obtained this week by CBC show that within months of his appointment, Duffy was discussing what he called "an expanded role in the party," speaking at party fundraisers and Conservative associations across the country — and looking for ways the party could pay his expenses and "fees" for this work.
Emails obtained by CBC Thursday seem to show Duffy, seven months after he was appointed a senator, suggesting to an unidentified Conservative Party insider that he be named to cabinet as a minister without portfolio so he could have a car and driver, and extra staff. Or, failing that, "That the Cons fund hire my private company, and I use the cash to hire additional staff to assist with these gigs?"
A series of emails obtained Friday and dated three months later, in September 2009, show Duffy writing to Dan Hilton, the executive director of the Conservative Party. In one email, Duffy asks, "Dan: Shud I send you a one page note re fees and expenses?"
In another email, one of his staffers asks Duffy if Hilton confirmed whether Conservative Party "HQ would cover the cost of some of your travel? For example, one of the events they asked you to participate in is coming up next week (Nova Scotia Campus Conservatives). I'd like to book your flights soon, but need to know who's covering for it."
In another email, Duffy writes to Hilton and Tracey Loosemore, director of fundraising. In the email, he says he just got back from Hamilton, Truro and South West Nova, and, "Everywhere I went, people told me they had responded to our email appeal." People were asking him what he thought of their emails, Duffy wrote, "I am starting to think we had better find a way of dealing with this mail before people get pissed off that we haven't responded." He finishes by suggesting to "have a staffer assigned to work with me."
In a reply, Hilton says, "I have arranged to set funds aside where it makes sense and I have discussed this with Jenni Byrne." He adds, "She can review the schedule from your assistant to see if their ridings are of influence in the area."
Jenni Byrne was the director of political operations for the Conservative Party, and was the party's national campaign director during the 2011 general election.
Hilton also says, "I know that she has asked for a data dump of email responses. I'll get her to call you so we can get on them quickly," indicating that Duffy would receive some help with the email correspondence from supporters.
Expenses for party business
There is nothing illegal or unethical about a political party paying the expenses of someone who has to travel and incur expenses on party business. It is also not unusual for senators to campaign for their party during an election, or speak at party fundraisers, although in those circumstances they cannot charge any expenses to their Senate office budget.
It is questionable if a person employed by the Senate, as Duffy's assistant would be, is working on party business during regular office hours. However, the emails indicate Duffy was asking the party for extra staffers to help him with his party work.
In an interview with CBC Charlottetown, on Dec. 29, 2008, shortly after his nomination to the Senate was announced, Duffy said, "The prime minister called me and I said, you know I'm not really much of a partisan. He said, we've got lots of partisans, we want people to go in there, shake that place up and when we get the critical mass, pass legislation to reform the senate."
However, as the interview continued, he said, "There was no way that the Liberals were ever going to vote for change. They wanted to keep it as the old pork barrel, where they could reward their friends and the people who had done the party favours."
Asked whether the Conservative Party would pay Duffy a fee for appearances at party events, spokesperson Fred DeLorey said in an email to CBC News, "Any events Mr. Duffy participated in on behalf of the party or local EDAs [electoral district associations] would have been paid for by the party or local EDAs. The party does not pay Mr. Duffy compensation."
Duffy at 'the shore' this weekend
Duffy flew to P.E.I. Friday, and told CBC Charlottetown in an interview at the airport it would be inappropriate for him to comment, considering there are, he said, three different investigations going on. "When that work is done, I think Canadians will agree, as the independent auditors at Deloitte, found that criticism of my expenses are largely without merit."
The Deloitte audit found that rules defining a senator's primary residence are "unclear," but did not comment on the merit of his expenses, except to report Duffy claimed Senate expenses when he was in Florida. Duffy paid back those expenses, as well as money he claimed for living expenses in Ottawa, with a cheque for $90,000 he received from the prime minister's top aide, Nigel Wright, who has since resigned.
Asked if he would be going to a provincial Progressive Conservative event Friday evening, Duffy said he was going to "the shore". He said, "Where would you sooner be on a night like this?". Asked if he'd been invited to the event, he said, "Of course."
A Postmedia story Friday reported that Duffy only spoke to Harper once about his expenses at a Feb. 13 caucus meeting. Andrew MacDougall, spokesperson for the prime minister, told CBC in an email, "Following a caucus meeting, Mr. Duffy approached the PM in the caucus room regarding the situation with his expenses. The PM was adamant that he should repay any inappropriate expenses."
At some point after that meeting and before Feb. 22 when Duffy publicly announced he'd repaid his expenses, Nigel Wright gave Duffy the cheque for $90,000. The prime minister has said repeatedly he didn't find out about the cheque from Wright until May 15.
Conservative Senator Don Plett, speaking to Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics Friday, described himself as a friend of Duffy's, but said he found Duffy's request for a cabinet appointment "very, very strange." However, he added, "That's not to say I wouldn't stand by him today."
Plett went on to say Duffy had done "a yeoman's job" on behalf of the Conservative Party, and deserves due process. "I'm not going to call for his resignation," he said.