Six months after he was appointed to the Senate, Mike Duffy was in consultations with Conservatives about an expanded role in the party and increased compensation, including his own suggestion he be named a minister without portfolio to get a car and staff, according to an email exchange obtained by CBC News.
The email, with the subject line "Duff" and dated July 2009, appears to be sent from Duffy's private email account to an unidentified Conservative Party insider.
In a reply, the party insider advises Duffy to keep any expenses for additional staff or resources with the party, and out of his office budget, "or it will hurt you down the road."
The email asks for advice about how Duffy should be compensated for what the email calls "my expanded role in the party." In the message, Duffy says he'll be speaking with Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein at a Senate golf banquet, but seems to indicate he'd already spoken with Gerstein.
The email goes on, "I suggested they make me a min without portfolio, so I get a staff, car and more resources to deal with the pr fallout etc. he laughed and said he didn't think THAT was within the realm of the Cons fund."
Conservative Fund Canada is the party's war chest, funded by supporters' donations, and is chaired by Gerstein. Gerstein, a former president of Peoples Jewellers and chair of the Senate banking committee, was appointed to the Senate on the advice of Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the same time as Duffy, in January 2009.
So, continues the email, "What do I demand?" Then, in a bracketed sentence, he seems to answer his own question: "(That the Cons fund hire my private company, and I use the cash to hire additional staff to assist with these gigs?)"
Finally, the email asks whether he should have a separate meeting with "Marjory," in apparent reference to the government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton. He adds, "Should I request a one on one with Stephen? To what end?" He signs off, "Mike, at home."
Advised to be cautious with travel
Five hours later, he receives a reply, advising him to "keep the discussion with Irving." Any money, staff or resources should come from the "fund," the adviser says, seemingly nixing the idea of asking for a cabinet position.
The reply continues that it's important for Duffy to have the fund pay for his travel. "So you don't get into trouble or run out of points."
"Points" likely refers to the 64-point system used by the Senate to fund senators' travel. Each point is usually worth a return flight.
The reply concludes, "Don't take a credit card, just expense to them," meaning Duffy shouldn't use his own credit card, or his Senate-issued American Express corporate credit card. His Senate credit card was used to track his whereabouts by the accounting firm Deloitte when it conducted its audit this year on his expense claims.
Duffy, using his celebrity as a former popular TV host, carried out extensive fundraising and election campaign events for the Conservative Party, appearing with candidates across the country. During the last general election, he acted as master of ceremonies at an event featuring the prime minister.
On Tuesday, a Senate committee voted to refer the matter of Duffy's expense claims to the RCMP. Reports indicate that Duffy at times claimed Senate expenses while he was appearing at election campaign events.
'There isn't a chance of a snowball in hell of this ever happening.'—Marjory LeBreton, government Senate leader
Contacted by CBC News Thursday, Duffy responded to a series of specific questions about the email, with this:
"I don't golf and don't have a record of any banquet."
CBC News attempted to contact Gerstein on Thursday afternoon and was told he was not in his Senate office. A request was made for an interview.
A spokesman for the Conservative Party, Fred DeLorey, when asked about the Duffy email and whether the party compensated him, replied, "Any events Mr. Duffy participated in on behalf of the party would have been paid for by the party. The party does not pay Mr. Duffy compensation."
Marjory LeBreton, speaking to reporters in the Senate foyer, said, "It's ridiculous. The idea that the prime minister or anyone would pass over elected members of the House of Commons and name Mike Duffy as a minister? It's so ridiculous it's not even funny. It's totally bizarre. Who knows, who knows, but when I read it, when I read it — I don't know who the recipient of the email was — but when I read it I went, like, there isn't a chance of a snowball in hell of this ever happening, and I never spoke to him about it."
However, as soon as Harper formed government in 2006 he advised the Governor General to appoint Montreal businessman and Conservative fundraiser Michael Fortier to the Senate, and immediately put him in cabinet as public works minister. Harper had no Conservative MPs elected in Montreal, and needed a Montreal voice in his cabinet. Fortier promised to run in the next election in 2008, but he was defeated and was not reappointed to the Senate.
LeBreton herself was named from the Senate as a minister of state for seniors for a few years by Harper, although as government Senate leader she is automatically a cabinet member.
On CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel told host Evan Solomon, "I don't even know where to start with this, it makes me so angry ...These emails are the antithesis of how we function as a party."
Later in the show, Rempel said, "You know, some of my colleagues …have called for [Duffy's] resignation in the Senate. After hearing this story today, I've got to tell you, I couldn't do anything but support that." She added, "The prime minister himself has expressed deep regret for appointing Mike Duffy."