As It Happens

The Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy deal: 5 questions still unanswered from the Senate scandal

The Senate Scandal began with a simple question: Where is Mike Duffy's home? It didn't get a simple response. A year later, As It Happens has a lot more questions. Here are a few....
The Senate Scandal began with a simple question: Where is Mike Duffy's home? It didn't get a simple response. A year later, As It Happens has a lot more questions. Here are a few.

1. Why Mike Duffy?

It still seems hard to understand why the Prime Minister's top aide Nigel Wright took such an interest in Senator Duffy's expense problems. 

We do know that Mike Duffy had been useful to the party.

When the Prime Minister appointed Mr. Duffy to the Senate he brought along the star power that he had built up during decades as a broadcaster.

He leveraged that into a role as a key Conservative fundraiser.

As Happens first spoke to Mike Duffy long before he was famous. Even then, he seems to have had a nose for the power of money, describing the challenges he faced in Vietnam with people begging for money on the streets.


It was April, 1975. Duffy had been covering the last days of the Vietnam war for the CBC. As the communists entered Saigon, the Americans exited, and the young reporter caught one of the final flights out. He spoke to Barbara Frum after landing in Hong Kong.

CBC Reporter Mike Duffy, April 1975

2. Who is Nigel Wright?


When the Prime Minister's Office confirmed rumours that Mike Duffy had lied about paying back his dubious expense claims, and said that it was actually the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright, who picked up the $90,000 tab, many of us asked: who's Nigel Wright?


Since then the government has put forward two very different versions of the man.

At first the Prime Minister's surrogates were sent out to defend Nigel Wright as a man of exceptional honour. He'd reached into the deep pockets he'd built up as lawyer and businessman to do right by the taxpayer and help out a friend.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, May 15, 2013

That's changed. The Prime Minister's official line is that Mr. Wright was the deceptive mastermind solely responsible for involving the PMO in the deal with Mike Duffy.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 29 October 2013

Which one is it? Nigel Wright isn't saying -- not to As It Happens. We've asked but have had even less luck than the reporter who sprinted after Mr. Wright during his daily half-marathon. He has taken questions from the RCMP, with the assistance of his lawyers.

3. What was the deal?

It was hard to convince Canadians that Nigel Wright payed off Mike Duffy's $90,000 debt out of friendship alone.

PEI's Hot-105 radio station responded to the scandal with the "Do Ya A Duffy" campaign. They promised to pay off listeners' debts if they called in with an explanation, and if the debt was under $90,000.

Here's Carol's interview with program director Myles MacKinnon here.

Myles MacKinnon of Hot-105 Radio Charlottetown, 31 May 2013

That left us asking what the Wright-Duffy deal really was. What did Mike Duffy do for his $90,000 and what exactly did Nigel Wright deliver in return?

There were suggestions that three Conservative Senators might have been responsible for softening a Senate report based on an auditor's investigation of Duffy's expenses.


Marjory Lebreton was then the Conservative leader in the Senate, David Tkachuk was the head of the committee responsible for the investigation, and Carolyn Stewart Olsen sat on the committee and had been a close aide to the PM.

None seemed keen to take a call from As It Happens.

Finally, first Marjory LeBreton, and then David Tkachuk, agreed to speak to Carol. With rumours and tidbits of information leaking out every day, we did our best to begin putting the pieces together.

Senator Marjory Lebreton, 27 May 2013

Senator David Tkachuk, 5 June 2013

There were more questions for the Senators by late fall. Mike Duffy had gone on the attack in two tell-all speeches from the Senate floor. Then the RCMP allowed the release of a document detailing the narrative of the Wright-Duffy deal that they had put together from e-mails and interviews.

It appeared that the Senators had worked with the PMO to whitewash the auditor's report, and the RCMP had taken an interest in another Senator.


They accused Irving Gerstein, the Conservative party's self-described bagman, of contacting one of the auditors' superiors to influence their work. Senators Gerstein, LeBreton and Stewart Olsen declined to speak but Senator Tkachuk was willing to defend himself.

Senator David Tkachuk, 21 November 2013

4. Who cares?

The Senate scandal is big news around Parliament Hill, but should Canadians really care? Paul Calandra, the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary is ready to turn the page. He spent the fall deflecting opposition questions with reminders of past Liberal misdeeds.

Not everyone has been quite so dismissive.

Brent Rathgeber, who resigned from the Conservative caucus after deciding that the party had strayed from its core Conservative values, told Carol that the scandal had shaken the credibility of the government amongst the party faithful.

Independent MP Brent Rathgeber, 28 October 2013

We asked former RCMP Superintendent Garry Clement to assess the Mounties' case so far. He seemed to think we could be in for a criminal prosecution on political corruption charges unlike anything in the history of this country.

Former RCMP Superintendent Garry Clement, 21 November 2013

Former General and Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire didn't seem quite so hopeful for the future of the Senate. Carol spoke to him on the evening the Senate voted to suspend Mike Duffy, along with Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.

Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire, 5 November 2013

5. What responsibility should the Prime Minister take?


The Prime Minister has been perfectly clear about who he believes should be held responsible for his office's involvement in the Duffy deal: Nigel Wright. He certainly has the support of Pierre Poilievre, the minister responsible for reforming the Senate.

Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, 1 November 2013

Not all Conservatives agree though. David McLaughlin, a former Chief of Staff to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, wanted the Prime Minister to find out just what had gone wrong in the PMO and come clean to Canadians. That's advice that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wishes the Prime Minister would take.

David McLaughlin, 29 October 2013

Tom Mulcair, 24 January 2014

Photo Credits

The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

The Canadian Press/Devaan Ingraham

The Canadian Press/Fred Chartrand

The Canadian Press/Jason Franson


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.