Senate appointment set Duffy loose as high-profile Conservative
Broadcaster-turned-senator called questions in 2009 about expense claims 'beneath contempt'
Within days of being sworn into office as a Conservative senator on Jan. 26, 2009, former broadcaster Mike Duffy began making waves with a series of ribald partisan barbs aimed at various detractors of his patron, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Duffy, barely a month departed from his Ottawa-based politics show on CTV, used an appearance at a Conservative event in Winsloe, P.E.I., to paint what he called "a grotesque scene" in which the provincial premier got "the shaft" after getting in bed with his Newfoundland counterpart.
Amidst a growing public uproar, Duffy used the sodomy metaphor twice more in the following days before finally withdrawing his remarks in the Senate without apology.
He's been rallying the Conservative cause and raking in the cash for party coffers ever since.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office acknowledged that Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, personally bailed Duffy out of a Senate housing spending scandal this spring with a $90,000 gift.
For a prime minister who came to office in 2006 promising "a new code on Parliament Hill," his office's defence of Duffy seemed inexplicable.
"Bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison," Harper warned in November 2005.
The prime minister has always had a selective reading of that edict — former cabinet minister Helena Guergis was excommunicated on hearsay evidence, Tony Clement of G8 gazebo fame was promoted — but a senator fudging his expenses in the unelected, unaccountable upper chamber would appear to trample everything Harper once decried.
The old adage in politics is follow the money.
'Old Duff' treated as star in small-town fundraising tours
In early June, 2009, it was Duffy — employing his unmistakable public profile and professional speaking skills — who hosted a $100,000-plus, campaign-style town hall for Harper in Cambridge, Ont., where the prime minister touted the benefits of his new "economic action plan."
That same month, local news reports began chronicling Conservative party fundraisers at which Duffy was the star attraction.
"I'm still learning about those secret handshakes and the wink-wink, nudge-nudge," the new senator quipped to the Peterborough Examiner on June 19 before a party event that attracted about 140 people at $100 a pop — a $14,000 evening.
By September of his first year in the upper chamber, "Old Duff" was sending out personalized video messages from the Conservative party in which he called the recipient by their first name and invited them to fill in a survey. An interactive, online application allowed people to provide their names so Duffy could appear to hail them, as well: "Hey Susan, it's the Old Duff here."
In small-town Canada, the 30-year veteran of CBC and CTV was treated as a star.
"Who would have thought the 'Duffinator' and host of 'Mike Duffy Live!' would ever be in Langley," the local B.C. riding association president gushed in one party release. "This is the can't-miss political event in Langley this year."
Duffy's public profile does more than raise money for the party. It also attracts fawning local press.
A visit to Lacombe, Alta., for a fundraising dinner with the Wetaskiwin Conservative Association spawned both an advance story in the Lacombe Globe and coverage that quoted Duffy's speech at length.
"Someone said to me how screwed up the Liberals are and they're so screwed up they're stabbing each other in the front," Duffy was quoted by the newspaper telling the partisan crowd.
It's a scenario that has played out over and over across Canada, from Kelowna, B.C., to Charlottetown, P.E.I.
"Guest speaker Mike Duffy had the crowd in stitches as he reminisced of experiences from his CBC days and present day politics," said the Aurora Snap after the senator's November 2009 fundraiser with Conservative MP Lois Brown.
Then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff "is doing the work of three people — Larry, Curly and Moe," Duffy was quoted telling a party fundraiser in Wendover, Ont., that The Review website said was attended by more than 20 mayors and councillors from the region.
"Senator Duffy does stand-up job," said the headline in the Simcoe Reformer over a story about an April 2012 Conservative party fundraiser in Delhi, Ont.
"Hilarious, engaging and delightfully risque," said the lengthy story.
Those who cover parliamentary politics on a regular basis, however, often see a different side of the senator.
Back in November 2009, New Democrat Peter Stoffer first raised the matter of Duffy's growing expense claims — some $40,000 in taxpayer-funded travel in just a few short months in office.
At the time, The Canadian Press asked Duffy how many party fundraisers he had attended in the past year, what other public causes he was championing as a senator, and whether his full-time home was indeed in Ottawa.
The former journalist responded with a terse, emailed reply.
"You are beneath contempt," Duffy wrote. "I follow all the rules."