POLITICS

Mike Duffy Says Good Intentions, Not Greed, Behind Expense Mess

12/17/2015 12:31 EST | Updated 12/17/2016 05:12 EST

OTTAWA - Human error and Senate convention — not graft or greed or desperate financial straits — were all that lay behind expense claims now at the heart of Mike Duffy's criminal trial, the embattled senator told an Ottawa courtroom Thursday.

On his second day of cross-examination, Duffy was grilled on his per diem claims, including those filed from a holiday in Florida and a trip to B.C. for a cancelled political fundraiser that he turned into a chance to visit family.

But Duffy took issue with what he saw as the premise of the questions from Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes — that he was doing it all for the money.

mike duffy

Sen. Mike Duffy testifies at his trial in Ottawa. (Photo: Greg Banning/CP)

"My life is not about money, Mr. Holmes. If it were about the money, I'd still be at CTV," the former broadcaster told the court.

"My life is about trying to do the right thing, be helpful to people and make a contribution."

Duffy, who has pleaded not guilty to 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, said that in all his many years as a senator, he was only alerted to problems with his claims maybe three times.

And as a show of good faith for how he trusted the Senate's review process, he left a book of blank and signed personal cheques with his assistant so she could immediately pay back any money he was found to have claimed in error.

Not that he always knew what claims were being submitted.

"My life is about trying to do the right thing, be helpful to people and make a contribution."

Court has heard that Duffy also left a stack of signed and blank expense forms for his staff to fill out — a common practice in the Senate — because of the pressure on senators to keep up with their paperwork and file claims on time.

That's how one claim, for the Senate per diems senators can claim when they are on official business, ended up being filed for days Duffy was actually on vacation in Florida, court heard.

It was filled out in error by his assistant.

"Had I seen it I would never have claimed for my time away," Duffy said.

A trip he took to B.C. that was originally intended to support a local MP's candidacy on Vancouver Island turned into a family visit because the political component of the trip was cancelled last minute by the party and Duffy was already there, court heard.

He could have paid to change his ticket but that would have been more expensive, he testified, though he acknowledged he never actually checked what those costs would be.

Instead, he ended up visiting with his kids.

Duffy agreed that it was ultimately his responsibility to ensure the claims being filed were valid and accurate, but the pre-signed forms were the way it was done.

"I did what the others did," he said.

"Maybe it's poor practice, but there was never any intent on my part to ever file a false claim, to ever seek anything to which I wasn't by the rules allowed to claim."

Central to Duffy's defence is the argument that Duffy committed no crimes but was left caught up in a web of complex and arcane rules that made it impossible for any single senator to know exactly what to do.

Among the Crown's arguments is that Duffy was claiming expenses on the basis he was a resident of P.E.I., when in fact he was not.

Holmes pointed Thursday to the fact that the address Duffy listed on his passport application was his home in a suburb of Ottawa and that he filed his income taxes in Ontario.

Duffy said that was because his lawyer told him it was not legal to file taxes in P.E.I. if he was earning his income in Ontario.

While Duffy left the Conservative caucus in 2013 at the height of the furor over his expenses, his testimony Thursday suggests he still has a measure of loyalty to his former party.

Court heard that when Duffy handed over his diaries to the Prime Minister's Office to address the question of his residency, he tried to blank out anything he felt wasn't relevant, including notes from what are supposed to be confidential caucus meetings.

But his efforts didn't obscure the passages entirely and he also ran out of time to hide them all, leaving the prosecutor to read out some entries over Duffy's protests.

They included complaints about longtime party organizer Guy Giorno and references to Duffy being applauded for speeches he gave in MPs' ridings.

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