POLITICS

Mike Duffy Trial: Dean Del Mastro Testifies, Talks Star Power

05/08/2015 12:25 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
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OTTAWA - Mike Duffy, the ad said, brings an "irreverent view on Canadian politics and stories about all the things we thought we knew."

The promo, shown in court Friday, was for a 2012 speech Duffy gave at an event he billed taxpayers for attending, an expense claim at the heart of two of the 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery the suspended senator has been on trial for since April.

But it could also be an apt tag line for the trial thus far, which rose Friday for a planned three-week break.

In testimony and thousands of pages of evidence, what everyone thought they knew about the Conservative senator — where he lived, where he travelled, how he paid for everything from makeup to picture frames and what the Prime Minister's Office knew about it all — has come under scrutiny in a trial that's spilled out of the courtroom into the House of Commons and may hit the 2015 election campaign trail as well.

The crux of the Crown's case is that Duffy essentially used taxpayer funds to cover the costs of attending personal and partisan events that had nothing to do with his work as a senator.

On Friday, court heard that Duffy was paid $10,000 to speak at a corporate event in Ottawa in September 2012, but organizers didn't offer to cover his travel or accommodation.

They didn't think they had to, the organization's executive director said.

"As far as we were concerned, Sen. Duffy was a local person," Dean Karakasis told the court.

But Duffy billed the Senate for travel to Ottawa from Charlottetown, a $3,000 charge he justified on the grounds he was in Ottawa for Senate business, documents show. The travel claim is part of two of the charges against Duffy.

The defence has maintained that all the events Duffy attended were connected to his work as senator and the costs were justified. Lawyer Donald Bayne asked Karakasis if he knew what Senate business Duffy had that day. He didn't.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

Since the trial began in April, the case has been cited often in Commons, with the opposition quizzing the government on issues ranging from Duffy's eligibility for his seat to the PMO's involvement in the scandal.

The bribery charge Duffy faces relates to a $90,000 cheque he received from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff to reimburse the Senate for inappropriate expenses.

But the government has mostly refused to answer, saying the case is before the courts.

The Conservatives may, however, face questions about it on the campaign trail. The trial was initially expected to take 41 days, but is likely to run on until the fall.

Court also heard more Friday about Duffy's role raising funds and profiles for local MPs; a review of his diaries has shown he was involved with at least 74 members of the Conservative caucus.

Among them were former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro and current MP Cathy McLeod who testified about events he attended in their ridings.

But Del Mastro also told the court meeting Duffy one summer day in 2010 at a Tim Hortons in his home riding of Peterborough, Ont.

In returning the trial to an issue that's vexed it since the start, Del Mastro said Duffy was not in town that day simply to meet him.

"They were attending a dog show," Del Mastro said of Duffy and his wife.

Duffy billed the Senate for that trip to Peterborough, citing public business to discuss broadcasting issues, but as far back as its opening arguments, the Crown has argued that it was little more than a "shopping trip" for a new dog.

It had emerged earlier this week that Duffy didn't actually buy a dog that day, undermining the Crown's line of reasoning.

Del Mastro appeared to confirm, however, that Duffy did talk about broadcasting.

The former Tory said he was thinking of starting an Internet show to feature MPs, arguing the public often has the wrong perception of them and he discussed the idea with Duffy.

Del Mastro was convicted last fall of violating the Canada Elections Act during the 2008 election and is currently awaiting sentencing. He resigned his seat after the verdict.