Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintains he has little to do with the trial of suspended senator Mike Duffy. Rex Murphy begs to differ.
On Tuesday, the first day of Duffy's trial, Murphy was on CBC's "The National" to argue that the outcast senator's fate could "blend with the highest actors in Canadian politics."
"From the moment that the prime minister's aide Nigel Wright became entangled in the effort to see that some of Mr. Duffy's improper expense claims were cleaned up, the story became huge," he said. "The party, the prime minister, and the senator are variously and in highly varying degrees all caught up in this web."
Murphy said the trial will shine a light on the insider game of politics and spur questions about Harper's judgment — otherwise "his strongest asset" — in appointing not only Duffy but senators Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin to the Red Chamber in late 2008.
Murphy also believes the trial will impact the fall federal election, regardless of its outcome.
"Those who have a set and low opinion of Mr. Harper's ethics in practice already will see in this, regardless of what is proven, a confirmation of what they feel they know," he said. "It will depress the energies of his supporters, and distract from whatever agenda the Conservatives try to establish before an election is called."
Murphy concluded that the trial will be a "black cloud" for the Tories that won't go away before the fall vote.
But when asked about the trial at a news conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, Harper appeared unrattled.
"I had no knowledge of these things and will not be called as a witness," he said. "We have offered the Crown every possible assistance in their case against Mr. Duffy and will continue to do so."
The prime minister has always insisted he didn’t know Wright gave Duffy a $90,000 cheque to cover the senator's questioned housing expenses. On Tuesday, Harper reiterated that RCMP investigators confirmed his position months ago.
It didn't take long, however, for the prime minister’s name to surface at Duffy's trial. According to The Globe and Mail, Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, mentioned Harper repeatedly in the first day of proceedings.
Bayne argued the senator's disputed travel claims were for public matters and the cheque he received from Wright, eventually leading to a bribery charge, was part of a conspiracy by the Prime Minister's Office to make him repay housing expenses he thought were legitimate.
On Tuesday, Crown attorney Mark Holmes contradicted the prime minister's positon that Duffy, who lived in the Ottawa area for decades while working as a journalist, was eligible to sit as a senator for Prince Edward Island in the first place.
"I'm not saying this to be provocative, but I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge or at least to stipulate from our perspective that Senator Duffy was probably ineligible to sit as a senator, and to sit in the Senate as a representative of Prince Edward Island," Holmes said.
"He was constitutionally eligible to have been appointed from the province of Ontario, but that is not what happened."
Duffy is facing 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery. He has pleaded not guilty. The trial is expected to wrap up in June.
With files from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj
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