Politics

Mike Duffy trial: Crown done with final witness, setting stage for senator to testify

The Crown in the Mike Duffy trial has finished with its final witness and is expected to rest its case on Tuesday, setting the stage for the senator to testify on his own behalf.

Senator Mike Duffy could testify later this week in Ottawa

New Senate Speaker George Furey, the Liberal member of the Senate committee in 2013 that handled reports on the audit of expenses by Mike Duffy and other senators, testified on Monday at the Mike Duffy fraud trial in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The Crown in the Mike Duffy trial finished with its final witness and is expected to rest its case on Tuesday, setting the stage for the senator to testify on his own behalf.

The Crown said it will present video evidence in the morning, after which its case will be wrapped up. Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne would not say if Duffy will testify, indicating only that he would reveal his plans after the Crown rested. However, Bayne has said in the past that his client is eager to appear in the witness box.

The Crown's final witness was Diane Pugliese, a former attendance administrator with the Senate who was in charge of taking the senators' attendance.

But earlier, newly appointed Speaker of the Senate George Furey testified that all senators were encouraged to seek advice if they had any questions or concerns about the propriety of claiming expenses.

Testifying as a Crown witness, Furey said that if those rules were not clear, senators were encouraged to seek clarity from Senate administrators or the Senate's own internal economy committee, which oversees Senate spending.

Furey was the Liberal member of the Senate committee in 2013 that handled reports on the audit of expenses by Duffy and other senators.

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 was chief of staff for then prime minister Stephen Harper.

Bayne pressed his case that there were no clear-cut or specific Senate rules on expenses.

"We try to get as many rules and things in place as we can, but you can't write everything down," Furey replied, adding that senators should "intuitively" know what's proper in terms of senators' use of public funds.

But Bayne hammered again, asking "Whose responsibility is it to clearly guide them?"

Furey said it's internal economy's responsibility to make the policies and regulations as clear as possible 

"But that does not exempt a senator from their own personal responsibility to use probity and prudence in spending public funds," he said. 

In the morning, Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes also zeroed in on some of the expenses claimed by Duffy, asking whether Furey had ever utilized service contracts to pay for a personal fitness trainer or a volunteer.

Furey, deputy chair of the internal economy committee, said he had not. He said there was no mechanism in the rules to pay for volunteers. Asked whether it would be an inappropriate mechanism to pay expenses associated with a fitness trainer, Furey said he would have to know more details about the claim, but in his own case, he couldn`t think of a time when it would be appropriate.

Court has heard that Duffy expensed $10,000 for sessions with a personal fitness trainer and $500 to pay for a volunteer in his office. But Duffy's lawyer Bayne has argued that those expenses were all legitimate. The claims for the personal fitness trainer were for consultations on a project Duffy was working on in relation to fitness and seniors. And the payment to the volunteer was for Senate-related work she had done for the senator.

Duffy may testify this week

Furey also testified that he never pre-signed blank travel claim forms. He said his committee had told senators not to do it because it's a poor practice. However, he said he had no first-hand knowledge of anyone doing it.

​"I would not pre-sign a document because it would be open to abuse," said Furey, who replaced Conservative Senator Leo Housakos last week as Speaker, following the Liberals' federal election win Oct. 19. 

Court has also heard that Duffy had pre-signed blank travel claim forms, but Bayne has suggested Duffy's office staff was just following a system practised in other Senate offices.

The trial, which began April 7 in the Ontario court of justice, resumed Monday after taking a break for a few days, having heard testimony from Duffy's former colleague Gerald Donohue.​

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