Friday, April 22, 2016

Mike Duffy was pawn in a bigger game

Mike Duffy was pawn in a bigger game

Joe Warmington      

Some things are worth waiting for, and Sen. Mike Duffy sure did plenty of waiting.

Sen. Mike Duffy leaves the courthouse after being cleared of bribery and fraud charges in Ottawa, Canada, April 21, 2016. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

Some things are worth waiting for, and Sen. Mike Duffy sure did plenty of waiting.

He waited 15 months to be charged. He waited a year and half for trial. He waited another year for that trial to be completed.

And then Thursday he sat in an Ottawa courtroom and waited for hours as Judge Charles Vaillancourt read his verdict on all 31 charges laid by the RCMP.

The final score was Duffy 31, the Crown 0.

Sweet music to Duffy’s ears. But a long time coming.

Nothing moved fast.

“It’s the waiting, Joe, that is the hardest part,” Duffy told me over the phone on July 14, 2014. “It’s difficult not knowing what the RCMP are going to do.”

A week later, the RCMP finally did lay charges in the Senate expenses investigation that saw then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, pay back $90,000 of Duffy’s expenses for claiming his P.E.I. cottage was his principle residence.

I remember telling Duffy on the day Vaillancourt was chosen that he couldn’t have a better judge. As lawyer Calvin Barry told myself and Ross McLean on Newstalk 1010’s Late Shift on April 7, 2015, the North York judge whom I knew and admired when he was a lawyer in Sault Ste. Marie “won’t be swayed by the media circus or political pressure.”

“He’s a neutral, seasoned judge and highly respected,” Barry said.

I have known Duffy for 30 years and can tell you the narrative that he’s a selfish egomaniac is bogus in my experience with him. In fact, he’s the opposite: generous, caring, concerned, honest, sympathetic and kind.

When I met him at the CBC with my Canadore College journalism class on a trip from North Bay in 1985, he went out for beers with us and not only talked for hours about the business but picked up the tab.

He’s nothing but a first-class gentleman. And he stays in touch.

During this protracted mess, he wasn’t just focused on himself.

“How’s Rob Ford doing?” he asked me many times. “I really feel for that poor guy.”

When the former Toronto mayor died, Duffy asked that I send my condolences to his family. When there’s cost cutting in the media, he’s the first guy to e-mail: “I hope you are all right.”

Truth is, many of us were more worried about Duff. He was the one with the heart trouble and under the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for murderers like Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams. His trial went on far longer than both of theirs.

I sent Duff an e-mail Thursday morning that said, “When you are acquitted, get back to work for the Canadian people,” to which he replied: “Thanks Joe. Appreciate it.”

I laughed when I saw the old reporter blow by the media scrum with no comment. That was its own statement, and I suspect the next time Canadians hear from Duffy it may be from the floor of the Senate, where he’ll not only return to work, but in the sweetest of ironies, receive two years of retroactive pay that’s been withheld.

Duffy was nothing more than a political scapegoat and a pawn in a bigger game. He was a national treasure for decades, but when he was the one in trouble it seemed all of his friends — media, political and otherwise — abandoned him without considering that all he ever asked for was a fair hearing.

Sen. Mike Duffy finally got his due process and the judge rightfully sent this case to the garbage can where it always belonged.

But he had to wait for it.