OTTAWA – Sen. Mike Duffy has introduced a new plotline into his story about his life with the Conservatives, alleging that party operatives deliberately misdirected voters in a Vancouver Island riding in 2008.
Duffy was testifying Thursday about a trip he took to British Columbia in September 2009, at the request of former sport minister Gary Lunn. Many of the 31 charges that Duffy faces have to do with travel he billed to the Senate.
Duffy says he met Lunn and David Angus, a lobbyist for Molson Canada, a few months prior. He said Lunn was worried about re-election and wanted Duffy to appear at a local fair and for Molson to help with an Olympic torch.
“He’d had a close call during the previous election and it was only through the divine intervention of (late campaign manager) Doug Finley’s black ops group at Conservative headquarters that he managed to get himself re-elected,” Duffy told the court.
Julian West, the federal NDP candidate in Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2008, had withdrawn from the race, but his name remained on the ballot. Duffy recounted that the Conservatives used the party’s voter database to encourage NDP voters to vote for that candidate.
“Basically what happened was that they used robocalls to misdirect NDP voters, to split the vote and allow Gary Lunn to win,” Duffy said.
“He knew nothing about it, except that they phoned him afterward and said ‘You’re welcome Gary.’ He said ‘What?’ (They said) ‘We got you in’.”
Lunn told The Canadian Press on Thursday that he has no recollection of the June 2009 lunch, never knew who made the misleading phone calls and never told Duffy that it was Conservative headquarters.
Angus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lunn was defeated in the 2011 election by Green party Leader Elizabeth May.
Duffy’s third day of testimony went through several of the trips he took to Conservative events on the Senate’s dime, many of which were specifically partisan. The defence has emphasized that the Senate’s rules mention partisan activities as one of a senator’s core functions.
On the September 2009 trip to British Columbia, Duffy met his children in Vancouver and says he received a phone call the night before Lunn’s event on Vancouver Island telling him not to come.
“The campaign strategist who worked on B.C. decided that they had the Olympic torch in Saanich and to have me there would detract from Gary Lunn,” Duffy said he was told later.
Lunn testified earlier this year that Duffy’s participation was cancelled weeks before the event because the riding association didn’t want to pick up any related expenses.
On other events, Duffy said he was there to “friend raise” for the Conservative party. By that, Duffy said he meant using his reputation as a former broadcaster to broaden the party’s appeal.
He said he was in high demand among Conservative MPs, who would approach him at the weekly caucus meeting with requests for him to appear in their ridings.
Duffy said he would often meet non-party members at the events, including mayors and special interests groups who wanted to discuss public policy issues with him.
Defence lawyer Donald Bayne repeatedly asked Duffy whether the trips were for private business, or social purposes.
“Did you believe, sir, that this was all valid public business that you could charge the Senate for?” Bayne asked.
“I did then and I still do,” Duffy said.
“Any deception involved?”