OTTAWA – Almost a full year after Sen. Mike Duffy was acquitted on 31 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, the man who paid him $90,000 remains under investigation by the federal ethics watchdog.
Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has revealed that she continues to examine the conduct of Nigel Wright, former prime minister Stephen Harper’s one-time chief of staff.
Wright personally paid Duffy $90,000 to enable the senator to reimburse the Senate for his disputed living expense claims.
Dawson initiated an investigation into Wright’s conduct in May 2013, but suspended it a month later once an RCMP investigation was begun.
New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, who had urged Dawson to investigate Wright, says the ethics watchdog recently informed him that she resumed her investigation last May after the Crown decided not to appeal Duffy’s acquittal.
Her investigation is ongoing and Dawson told Angus her final report on the matter will be made public.
Among other things, Duffy was charged with accepting a $90,000 bribe. But Wright, who was a Crown witness at Duffy’s trial, was never charged with offering a bribe.
Wright resigned as Harper’s right-hand man once news of the payment leaked out. He maintained throughout the ensuing political and legal maelstrom that he had done nothing wrong and only wanted to ensure that taxpayers were not left on the hook for Duffy’s living expenses.
Duffy had claimed expenses for his longtime home in Ottawa while declaring his Prince Edward Island cottage as his primary residence.
Other than publicly shaming public office holders who breach the Conflict of Interest Act, Dawson has no power to impose sanctions or penalties, other than fines of up to $500 for failure to meet certain reporting requirements.
“She doesn’t have any real tools to hold anybody to account so the best we’re getting here is a moral victory,” Angus said in an interview.
“But I think at least that would be better than leaving the impression that you can make these secret financial arrangements in such squalid conditions and there’s no consequences … It was so wrong on so many levels.”