OTTAWA — A lack of clarity in the Senate’s rules and regulations extended to how senators were expected to spend their annual office budget, court heard Friday as the first week of Mike Duffy’s trial began drawing to a close.
Senators have broad discretion to hire whomever they like to work in their offices, and if contracts are tendered for research or other services, proof of that service isn’t required, court was told as the upper chamber’s former law clerk took the stand for a third straight day.
Mark Audcent began his testimony on Tuesday as the Crown’s first witness, but by midday Friday he might easily have been mistaken as a witness for the defence, driving home the point that the rules governing Senate expenses provide senators with little in the way of rigid guidance.
The debate about the rules on contracting and hiring is related to the fact that a friend of Duffy’s received four contracts worth a total of $65,000 — work the Crown alleges was never performed.
But there’s nothing in the rules that say proof of completed work is required in order to be reimbursed, court heard.
The rules around contracting are so vague that an internal Senate committee recommended in 2010 they be tightened with more oversight, Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne told the court. The Senate disagreed with that advice.
Audcent has spent much of his time on the stand going over the various rules, policies and guidelines on the business of the Senate, given that he wielded the pen on many of them over his three decades working for the upper chamber.
The process has become more complex over time, he said.
“The Senate is like all institutions: things are becoming more administrative,” owing to a changing climate in which people want to see what is or isn’t permissable in writing, Audcent said.
The defence’s tactic of taking him through the Senate’s myriad rules and guidelines appeared several times to irritate Crown lawyer Mark Holmes, who interjected several times to express dismay at the repetitive nature of Bayne’s questions.
The nature of those rules is what’s at stake in the case, Bayne retorted.
“I think the obligation is going to be put on me by the end of the trial to say the Senate rules either prohibit something or permit something, and I can’t just stand up and say it — this is the law clerk from the Senate,” he said.
At one point, even Justice Charles Vaillancourt told Bayne to move on — and also prevented Audcent from weighing in specifically about the expenses and contracts at the heart of the criminal charges.
Audcent wouldn’t say whether any changes were made to Senate policies in light of the 2010 report, on the grounds that doing so would violate the solicitor-client privilege that exists between him and senators.