Mike Duffy trial Day 12: Duffy had 'no discretion' to change contract services, court hears

Mike Duffy did not have the discretion to change the nature of the work described in a contract he had made with his friend Gerald Donohue, meaning that money could not be used for other Senate services, court heard today.
Witness Nicole Proulx from the Senate finance office, as well as Mike Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne and Duffy himself leave the Ottawa courthouse Wednesday. 1:12

Mike Duffy did not have the discretion to change the nature of the work described in a contract he had made with his friend Gerald Donohue, meaning money allocated for the contract could not be used for other Senate services, court heard today.

"There's no discretion to do other services," Nicole Proulx, former director of Senate finance, testified on the 12th day of Duffy's trial in a provincial court in Ottawa.

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 with money provided by the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

Court has heard that Donohue issued cheques for services expensed by Duffy that included payments to an office volunteer, a makeup artist, a photo framing firm and a personal fitness trainer.

Crown prosecutor Jason Neubauer focused on a 2009 contract Duffy had made with Donohue for "editorial services" and "writing services" that also included speeches. Proulx testified that once a contract is issued, it's a legal document between the supplier of the services and the Senate. "The senator cannot decide to have other services than those provided or those stated [on the contract]," Proulx said.

Neubauer asked Proulx if Duffy had the discretion to change the nature of the work, once the funds were committed and an agreement was finalized.

Proulx said no. She said he would have discretion in making decisions on the kinds of speeches written and editorial services but that the services would have to fall within those two descriptions.

The RCMP have alleged that Duffy awarded contracts worth roughly $65,000 to Donohue, but that "little or no apparent work" was done in exchange for the payments. The Crown has argued that Donohue used that money to pay for inappropriate or non-parliamentary services for Duffy.

Cheques signed by Gerald Donohue to pay for those services, which were billed to the taxpayer, came from either Maple Ridge Media, or later Ottawa ICF, court has heard. Donohue is recovering from serious health issues and won't be able to testify until at least next week.

Proulx also said that when it came to verifying that work on a contract had been completed, Senate finance officials would "would rely on the signature of the senator."

"Is the truthfulness of that verification challenged," Neubauer asked. 

Only if there was reason to do so or "unless there's something really odd ... no, that's not something that would be challenged," she said.

Earlier, the Crown suggested that it was made clear to the now suspended senator that Senate resources must be used for carrying out senators' parliamentary functions.

Proulx testified  that upon being appointed a senator, Duffy, like all newly appointed senators, met with Senate administration officials.

Those officials included the Senate law clerk, the director of human resource and herself.

Proulx said that during this meeting, as she does with all rookie senators, she went through with Duffy each type of budget afforded to a senator, which includes office and travel. She said she emphasized "the overarching principle that Senate resources can only be used for Senate purposes."

Proulx said that administration officials recognize that when someone is just appointed, there is a lot of excitement and activity. To go through volumes of policies would be "counterproductive." The approach, she said, is to provide  the senators with "key points," which include the use of financial resources.

Proulx testified that Duffy, along with all newly appointed senators, received a Senate handbook and orientation letter that also outlines the responsibilities of the senators regarding their budgets.

Suspended senator Mike Duffy arrives for day 12 of his fraud and breach of trust trial at the Ottawa courthouse. 0:31

With files from Kady O'Malley


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.