Mike Duffy, testifying for the first time at his criminal trial, said former prime minister Stephen Harper ignored his concerns about being appointed a senator for P.E.I. and insisted that if he were to join the Senate, he must represent that province.

Tuesday marked Duffy's first chance to speak at length publicly since before the trial began on April 7. Since then he has stayed largely silent, ignoring the throngs of reporters as he has entered and exited the Ottawa courthouse.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery related to expenses he claimed as a senator and later repaid in March 2013 with $90,000 from Nigel Wright, who at the time was chief of staff for Harper. 

Duffy will now have the opportunity to justify, legally, his series of controversial expense claims, which the Crown contends weren't related to Senate or government business and shouldn't have been billed to the taxpayer.

Under questioning from his lawyer Donald Bayne, Duffy talked about his path to becoming a senator. He recounted his meeting with Harper on Dec. 8, 2008, where the subject of Duffy becoming a senator for P.E.I. was first broached.

Duffy told the court that during that meeting, they spoke about reforming the Senate, at which point Harper asked him, "What is your situation?" and whether he owned property in P.E.I.

Duffy said he had owned property there since 1988 and planned to retire there. According to the Constitution, a potential or current senator must be a resident of the province for which he or she is appointed.

Duffy said Harper asked him if he wanted to be a senator, saying he could quit CTV News and speed up his retirement. Duffy, who spent much of his time in Ottawa working on Parliament Hill, said he was reluctant to be appointed as a P.E.I. senator and suggested it would be much simpler to be appointed to represent Ontario. 

But Harper, Duffy said, was insistent.

"And he said, 'It's got to be P.E.I.'"

Duffy said he told Harper he would have to think about the offer and met with the prime minister again on Dec. 16. Duffy said he again expressed his concerns, saying that people in P.E.I. wouldn't be happy with his appointment and would instead expect to get in one of the Conservative stalwarts.

Harper said: "They'll get over it," Duffy testified.

He said Harper also made it clear that Duffy's cottage in P.E.I. would suffice for residency requirements.

Election prospects

Duffy said that as he left the office, he was approached by Harper's executive assistant Jeremy Hunt, who told him that the Conservatives were looking to appoint people with a national profile like Duffy to "expand the pool of accessible voters" in order to win a majority government.

What they were trying to do, Duffy testified, was to put people in the Senate who would provide "third-party validation" for Stephen Harper as someone Canadians could trust. 

Concerned about potential layoffs at CTV News, Duffy said, he accepted the offer on Dec. 20.

Duffy Trial

Senator Mike Duffy enters the Ottawa courthouse Tuesday for his first day of testimony in his defence. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Duffy also testified that he never received any formal training from Senate administrators on Senate policies or proceedings.

And although he said he was assured by the prime minister and the Prime Minister's Office that he met the residency requirements, questions about his eligibility emerged only six days after he was appointed a senator. The Charlottetown Guardian published a story quoting a legal expert who said Duffy wasn't eligible to sit in the Senate.

​Duffy said he expressed concerns about the Guardian story, and raised the issue with the Prime Minister's Office, which told him that they had checked with their own experts and that Duffy was qualified.

Not always the 'whole truth'

Duffy also testified about a meeting he had with Harper about six months before he was asked to join the Senate. Duffy said he had been ushered into Harper's office to hear about a small error he had made on his broadcast about the public debt.

Duffy said they also discussed the recent appointment of the new CBC president, Hubert Lacroix. Duffy said he asked Harper, "What's the story on him?"

He said Harper said he didn't really know and that the "boys in Montreal say he's a good businessman."

"And that's when I knew Stephen Harper didn't always tell the whole truth," Duffy said.

He said that Harper's claim that he didn't know any details about the person running such an important news service "didn't ring true to me."

Rona Ambrose reacts to Mike Duffy's testimony in his own defense1:39

A complicated life

​Earlier, Duffy spoke about his health issues, and went through a list of all the medication he takes for different ailments, including heart disease and diabetes. 

He also recounted key moments in his biography, including the toll his media career took on his personal life.

"Nothing in my life, Mr. Bayne, has been simple or straightforward," Duffy said.

Duffy spoke about growing up in Prince Edward Island and discussing his foray into the news business.

Duffy said he joined CBC Radio in the middle of the 1974 election. During his time there, he was known as "the Fireman," who would be dispatched to cover breaking news around the world.

But Duffy said the work affected his marriage, and his wife later asked for a divorce

"And it's my fault. I worked too hard, so I lost my kids," an emotional Duffy testified.

"They moved away eventually as far as B.C. And I had a lost decade, where every time I went by a schoolyard I wondered what my kids were doing."

Mike Duffy leaves Court after his first day of testimony0:41

Duffy said he began drinking during that time and developed bad eating habits. But he eventually moved on to CBC-TV and later, CTV News.

He spoke about his wife, Heather, a nurse he met after having surgery. He said she helped with his recovery, and he credited her for saving his life.

In 1992, days before they were to be married in Pembroke, Ont., he suffered a heart attack just before doing a live TV hit, he said. He later wed Heather at the Ottawa Heart Institute.

With files from John Paul Tasker and Margo McDiarmid