Mike Duffy

Michael Dennis Duffy, broadcaster, senator (born 27 May 1946 in Charlottetown, PEI).

Mike Duffy, November 2007.\r\n(courtesy Ayelie/Wikimedia CC)

Michael Dennis Duffy, broadcaster, senator (born 27 May 1946 in Charlottetown, PEI). A well-known journalist and television personality for CBC and CTV, Duffy became Conservative senator for Prince Edward Island in 2009. In 2012, he became embroiled in a Senate expense scandal and in 2014 was charged with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery; however, after an extended court case, Duffy was cleared of all charges in April 2016 and resumed his duties as senator.

Early Life

Michael Dennis Duffy was the oldest of five children born to Wilfrid F. Duffy, a naval veteran and civil servant, and Lillian B. Duffy, a homemaker. His grandfather Gavin Duffy had been a Liberal MLA in the PEI assembly. He said later that he grew up with political talk at family events. Educated in Catholic schools in Charlottetown, Duffy was no scholar. He dropped out of high school to pursue a career in broadcasting. From a weekly TV music and dance show for teenagers in 1962–64, Duffy went on to commercial radio jobs in Halifax and Amherst, Nova Scotia.

Political Journalist

In 1967, Duffy paid his own way to cover the national leadership convention of the Progressive Conservative Party, which he said inspired his passion for politics and political journalism. In 1969, he began working a behind-the-scenes job at television station CFCF in Montréal. However, his goal was to work in the nation’s capital. In 1971, he landed a job as a reporter at CFRA Radio in Ottawa. The same year, Duffy married Nancy Mann, whom he’d met in Halifax. The pair would have two children, Miranda and Gavin, but separated in 1979 and later divorced.

After working the municipal beat for CFRA, Duffy was assigned to Parliament Hill and quickly became part of the national political scene. He would eventually become a prominent member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and would cover every federal election from 1972 to 2008, along with many political conventions.

CBC

Duffy joined the CBC in 1974 as a radio reporter in its Parliamentary Bureau, covering daily politics, often with the use of anonymous sources. “The Old Duff” was known for his folksy, unpretentious style, which purported to give audiences an insider’s view of national politics. He also appeared regularly on CBC Radio’s Morningside program with Peter Gzowski, discussing national affairs and Hill gossip. Duffy was briefly assigned to Saigon in 1975 near the end of the Vietnam War.

In 1977, he switched to television and became a reporter for The National, CBC’s flagship newscast. During his tenure with The National (1977–88), Duffy covered constitutional negotiations, changes of governments and party politics.

In November 1981, Duffy reported on the “Kitchen Accord” involving Justice Minister Jean Chrétien, Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry and Roy Romanow, attorney general of Saskatchewan, which led to a breakthrough in national constitutional talks (see Patriation of the Constitution).

In 1984, he covered the prime ministerial transition from Pierre Elliott Trudeau to John Turner and the subsequent election on 4 September 1984, won by Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives. Around this time, Mulroney joked that Duffy had been lobbying for an appointment to the Senate. In 1986, Duffy won an ACTRA Award for live coverage of a terrorist attack on the Turkish embassy in Ottawa. The following year, he covered the Meech Lake constitutional negotiations.

The Baton-CTV Years

In August 1988, Duffy left the CBC to host his own news and current-affairs program on the CTV-affiliate CJOH-TV in Ottawa, owned by Baton Broadcasting. Sunday Edition with Mike Duffy went live in September, featuring interviews with political figures, journalists and pundits.

In 1992, Duffy suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized in Ottawa. While in hospital, he married Heather Collins, his second wife. Two years later, in 1994, Duffy was named to the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame for his contributions to radio and television journalism.

Around the same time, however, Duffy found himself in trouble with the Canada Revenue Agency. In 1995, a court found against him in a dispute with the federal tax department over expenses claimed by his company, Mike Duffy Media Services, and he was ordered to pay $20,989 in back taxes.

In 1999, Sunday Edition ended and Duffy moved to CTV Newsnet to host programs on politics and Parliament. His shows, COUNTDOWN: With Mike Duffy and Mike Duffy Live, ran from 1999 to 2008. Often shot in the foyer outside the House of Commons, the programs featured interviews with politicians and newsmakers, along with commentary, analysis and debate.

Mike Duffy Live covered the hotly contested elections of 2004, which resulted in a Liberal minority under Paul Martin, and 2006, which brought to power a Conservative minority government under Stephen Harper. It was the show’s handling of the 2008 election, however, that proved controversial. On 7 September 2008, the minority Conservative government was dissolved and an election called for 14 October. Five days before the election, Duffy repeatedly aired video of Liberal leader Stéphane Dion stumbling in an interview, leading to complaints of bias against Duffy from viewers and the Liberal Party. In 2009, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council issued a ruling critical of Duffy and CTV for its handling of the Dion incident.

Senate Appointment

On 22 December 2008, Prime Minister Harper announced the appointment of Duffy and 17 others to the Senate, all as Conservatives. Duffy had lobbied Prime Ministers Turner, Mulroney, Chrétien and Martin for a Senate seat, telling Martin he would be “proud to wear the red” of the Liberal Party. But his appointment as Tory senator representing PEI set off an immediate controversy because he had lived in Ontario since the early 1970s. Duffy dismissed the complaints; and, on 26 January 2009, took his seat in the Senate. He designated his cottage in Cavendish, PEI, as his primary residence and began claiming meal and housing expenses for a secondary residence, his home in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata.

Along with his Senate duties, Duffy took on additional work as a Conservative fundraiser, appearing at party events across the country.

Senate Expense Scandal

On 13 June 2012, Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson released audit reports into House of Commons and Senate expenses. Among other things, the Senate audit report raised questions about expense claims for secondary residences in the Ottawa area.

On 8 February 2013, the Senate’s Board of Internal Economy announced that Duffy’s housing and expense claims would be investigated, as would those of Conservatives Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, and Liberal Mac Harb. Later that month, on 22 February 2013, Duffy appeared on television to announce that he was paying back unspecified expenses, which he said had become a distraction to his job as a senator. However, on 14 May, CTV’s Ottawa Bureau chief, Robert Fife, revealed that the money had actually been paid by Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who had written a cheque to Duffy worth over $90,000; this was confirmed the next day by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). On 16 May, Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus, to sit as an independent senator.

On 13 June, the RCMP announced it had opened a criminal investigation into the Senate scandal. On 17 October, Senate Conservative Leader Claude Carignan introduced motions to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau (Harb had resigned in August). All three senators denounced the motions as unfair and undemocratic. Duffy gave two passionate speeches in his own defence, accusing the PMO of a “monstrous … scheme” to get rid of him for political reasons. Nevertheless, on 5 November, the Senate voted to suspend all three without pay for the duration of the parliamentary session.

After a lengthy investigation, Duffy was formally charged on 17 July 2014 with 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. The trial began on 7 April 2015 and dragged on for many months, right through the federal election of 19 October 2015, in which the Harper government was defeated. On 21 April 2016, Duffy was acquitted of all charges and was immediately reinstated in the Senate with full pay and privileges. He resumed his duties as an independent senator representing PEI on 2 May 2016.