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Day 1: The Lines are Drawn at DuffyGate

The first day of the Senator Mike Duffy’s trial is over. How did it go? Considering the deluge of media coverage, I’m surprised you have to ask. Even the Luca Magnotta trial didn’t get this much attention and he – well – murdered and dismembered his gay lover and then used Canada Post to mail bits and pieces to various groups including the Conservative Party of Canada.

Apparently Mr. Magnotta is not a member of the Conservative base.

The Crown opened its case against the good Senator with a ninety-minute statement that could best be summarized as, “He’s guilty as charged”. The defense replied with an even longer opening statement that was basically “No he’s not”.

Most of what was presented by the Crown and to some extent even the Defense, we’ve heard before but there were a couple of interesting new tidbits. For example:

The Defense contradicted Stephen Harper’s position about who and who is not eligible to sit in the Senate. I thought that was somewhat impolite considering that the Prime Minister was on the west coast attempting to take the high road and travel above any involvement in this sad little drama.

The Defense went on to read a part of the police interview with Nigel Wright that acknowledges that Stephen Harper approved a plan to threaten Duffy to repay expenses he didn’t owe. Wright said,

“I told the prime minister that, uh, Duffy was going to pay, he was basically going to say it was a mistake . . . and that the government people would have lines consistent with that, uh, and I also told the prime minister that he (Duffy) had sort of decent technical or legal defences to this crime. I was aware of the fact that I was pushing very hard to have a caucus member pay a significant amount of money to which he may have been legally entitled,”

In other words, it appears that the PMO and the PM were aware that Duffy’s claims might have been legitimate but the political embarrassment was more important to them than ascertaining the truth. So the plan approved by the Prime Minister was to ‘force’ Senator Duffy to repay. It was that authorization that led to Wright’s “we’re good to go” email.

We also learned that one of the counts against the Duffmeister was for an expense claim of $300 for a makeup artist at the G20 Summit. It appears that the Prime Minister shared the same makeup artist at the same Summit. When I heard that I wondered if it made Stephen Harper an accomplice after the fact. I also wondered if she charged by the square foot because if she did that could get expensive considering how much senatorial square footage there is to cover.

Another revelation was that the chubby Senator traveled to Peterborough, Ontario where he had a casual meeting with Dean Del Maestro who was the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary at the time. This, in and of itself, is a legitimate expense but the Crown contends that Senator Duffy used that meeting as a cover to purchase a puppy while in Peterborough.

I found this tidbit confusing to be honest.

I used to travel extensively for business before I retired and often made extraneous purchases while I was on the road. I bought more than one chess set for my collection, for example, but I still claimed for the business trip. After hearing this specific charge against the Senator, I was left wondering how purchasing a dog after meeting with the PM’s Parliamentary Secretary somehow nullified that meeting but then, it became even murkier when the Defense announced in its opening statement that there was no dog.

Just to muddy it up a bit more, the Ottawa Citizen revealed that one of its reporters had seen a dog leash at the Duffy residence. That doesn’t prove, however, the existence of a dog. The reporter would have been better off to leave no turd unturned by looking around the yard for dog poop. We have dogs and it is an unending struggle to keep up with the fecal output no matter how often you pick up after them.

Nonetheless, the dog story was a moment of high drama and I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop – perhaps there was no meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary either. But there was and he was subsequently charged and found guilty of election spending fraud.

That was pretty much it and it seemed somewhat small-time considering the enormity of the charges and not very deserving of the media hype it got yesterday. Nonetheless, there were a few moments that stand out above the rest.

The CBC’s Rosemary Barton wins the “Media Tweets of the Day” for these gems.

“Duffy sitting quietly. Revealing nothing as he listens to his lawyer.”

“Uhoh. Donald Bayne says Duffy didn’t buy a dog”

“I have lost 3 pens at this trial already. We are now waiting for the judge to return.”

“Duffy walking the hall with his wife.”

“My hand is now exhausted.”

“Crown has been speaking for 36 minutes”

Riveting stuff to the point that I kept postponing going to the bathroom in case I missed one of her ‘on the scene” tweets. Woodward and Bernstein — eat your heart out.

The Toronto Star wins for the “Most Extensive Use of Adjectives” with this sub-head:

“Mike Duffy’s trial kicked off with explosive new details about alleged misuse of public funds, emphatic denials of guilt, and a dramatic claim.”

In one sentence The Star managed to squeeze in ‘explosive’, ‘emphatic’ and ‘dramatic’. I don’t know which trial they were watching but it was obviously a lot more interesting than the opening statements at the Duffy trial. They used so much hyperbole that I thought they were filing a report on Rob Ford for a moment.

The most subdued report of the day went to Sun News for its simple, direct and cogent report. I don’t mind confessing that I was more than a little pleasantly surprised by their straight forward reporting. It isn’t something for which they are usually known.

CBC and CTV tied for most coverage of the day with almost continuous reports and interviews full of speculation and analysis (although there really hasn’t been all that much to analyze yet). CBC devoted much of Power and Politics to the Duffy Trial and Peter Mansbridge over at The National even dragged in the At Issue Panel and Rex Murphy who are normally only seen on Thursday nights.

But the Play of the Day goes to the New Democratic Party of Canada. The NDP sent over refreshments to the media during the noon-hour break at the courthouse. The refreshments were ice-cold Camembert and broken crackers; a none-to-subtle reference to last week’s flare up over Senator Nancy Ruth’s defense of having expensed breakfast when it was available to her for free.

Not bad for some dour socialists. Who would have thought that NDP Leader, angry old Tom Mulcair, could do satire? It might just have been the most significant revelation of the day.


DuffyGate – The Trial of the Decade


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