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By: Obert Madondo | The Canadian Progressive

Sen. Mike Duffy

Sen. Mike Duffy

Scandal-plagued Sen. Mike Duffy quit the Conservative caucus Thursday after his fraudulent Senate expense claims threatened to engulf the Harper government. Duffy, appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009, now sits as an independent.

“It is clear the public controversy surrounding me and the repayment of my Senate expenses has become a significant distraction to my caucus colleagues, and to the government,” Duffy said in a statement. “Given that my presence within the Conservative caucus only contributes to that distraction, I have decided to step outside of the caucus and sit as an independent Senator pending resolution of these questions.”

The resignation is a stunning turn of events.

Since the Senate expense scandal surfaced more than three months ago, the government has done everything possible to bail out Duffy and other Conservative senators implicated.  To suppress the truth.

After Duffy repaid the $90,172.24 in housing allowances he fraudulently claimed from Canadian taxpayers, the Conservatives bizarrely said he showed “leadership”.

Only last week, government House Leader Peter Van Loan told us: “The fact is that Senator Duffy did the right thing and actually repaid inappropriate sums months ago.”

Duffy claimed he’d made the settlement through a loan from the Royal Bank of Canada. That was a lie and the Conservatives knew it.

But that was well after Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, struck a secret deal which undoubtedly sought to remove the scandal from the national conversation.  Wright, a former Bay Street deal-maker, wrote a personal cheque to cover the bill.  The finer details remain unknown. For example: what were the conditions? Also, considering the amount involved, and the seriousness of the senate expense scandal, it’s hard to believe the official position that Harper was unaware of the deal.

Things didn’t exactly work out as intended. Since late last week, the bulk of the truth has emerged. Much more than what the senator and the Conservatives wanted us to know.

We learned that Duffy had billed Canadians for meals while vacationing in Florida.

We learned that he billed the Senate for expenses while campaigning for the Conservatives during the 2011 federal election. According to the Toronto Star, he claimed to have been on Senate business in Ottawa while campaigning for Conservative candidates in Quebec, BC, the Northwest Territories, the Maritimes, and Ontario.

The CBC News reports that Duffy also charged some of the candidates he campaigned for.

Most of these scandalous details emerged only after auditors from Deloitte, instructed by the Senate, audited the claims  of Duffy and the two other senators implicated in the scandal – independent Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.  After the audit, the Senate committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration ordered the three to repay the money they improperly claimed.

Where is the “open, honest, accountable” governance Harper promised us when he first came to power in 2006? Duffy remains as arrogant as he was when the scandal first emerged.

“Throughout this entire situation I have sought only to do the right thing,” his statement said. “I look forward to all relevant facts being made clear in due course, at which point I am hopeful I will be able to rejoin the Conservative caucus.”

From the Ottawa Citizen editorial:

The Conservatives should be very worried about the Mike Duffy scandal. Even Canadians who were willing to forgive waste, incompetence and disdain for Parliament, may not be willing to forgive a secret deal to pay off a senator’s debts to the public purse…

It was the stench of arrogance, entitlement and dishonesty that brought the Liberals down. There are still two years to go before the Conservatives face the test of an election. If they hope to win that election, they would be well advised to, first of all, stop protecting Duffy and clean up this mess as much as possible.

The National Post’s Andrew Coyne has made it clear that “the only right thing left for Mike Duffy to do now is resign” from the Senate.

With the protection of the PM, Conservatives and Harper-coddling corporate media evaporating this fast, Duffy will need a miracle to remain in the Senate. That’s because what’s emerged so far seems to be only the tip of the iceberg.

From the Toronto Star editorial:

There seems to be no end to this scandal; every fresh revelation raises the question of Duffy’s fitness to sit in the Red Chamber.

Late Thursday night, CTV News, where Duffy worked for decades, reported, “Sen. Mike Duffy attempted to influence the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s upcoming decision involving the right-leaning Sun News Network, a source has told CTV News. A well-placed source told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that Duffy approached a Conservative insider with connections to the CRTC three weeks ago to discuss Sun Media, which is asking the federal regulator to grant its news channel “mandatory carriage,” or guaranteed placement on basic cable and satellite packages. The move would boost Sun News Network’s profile and revenues.”

Canadians are unlikely to forgive Duffy.  Not any time soon at least. In the last day or so, they raged on Twitter via the hashtag #IfIHad90000.  “Mike Duffy, the ultimate Ottawa insider, suddenly finds himself on the outside,” says the Canadian Press.

The CBC News reports, “Conservative sources told The Canadian Press the vast majority of Duffy’s Senate colleagues had signed a petition calling for his ouster from caucus and were prepared to confront him with that petition at a meeting next Tuesday evening.”

Earlier this week, the New Democrats official asked Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard to investigate whether Duffy broke the rules by accepting Wright’s “gift”.

“With so many conflicting stories and such serious allegations, I hope the Senate ethics officer acts quickly to launch an investigation into Mr. Duffy’s actions,” said Charlie Angus, the NDP’s ethics critic. “With the prime minister’s own chief of staff in the middle, I also urge Conservatives to agree to immediately put in place an independent advisor to investigate these serious allegations.”

The federal ethics watchdog is reviewing Duffy’s payment.

The RCMP is reportedly considering investigating the senators’ expense claims.

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