The circle around Harper lands in Duffy trial spotlight

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper now says the “vast majority” of his staff didn’t know about a plan to fake Mike Duffy’s personal repayment of Senate expenses, changing his position that only a single person was aware.

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Stephen Harper now says the “vast majority” of his staff didn’t know about a plan to fake Mike Duffy’s personal repayment of Senate expenses, changing his position that only a single person was aware.

The focus on Harper’s office and who was involved in negotiating the repayment scheme, is expected to intensify as more witnesses testify in Duffy’s fraud, breach of trust and bribery trial.

In early June 2013, weeks after it was revealed that Harper’s then-chief of staff Nigel Wright repaid the $90,000, Harper emphasized to the House of Commons that it was Wright’s doing.

“Those were his decisions,” Harper said. “They were not communicated to me or to members of my office.”

Then-cabinet minister James Moore told the Commons that Wright “acted alone.”

But Justice Charles Vaillancourt has heard testimony from Wright and seen hundreds of emails, that place a half dozen staff and party brass in the know.

One of those told about Wright’s plan to repay was Ray Novak, Harper’s current chief of staff and a senior campaign director. Novak is arguably the closest person in the party or the government to Harper. He’s not just a staff member, but also a friend and confidante.

On Thursday, Harper backed Novak’s claim that he did not read the direct email from Wright — then his boss — and didn’t know about Wright’s payment.

“We were all told, we were all told that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses … that’s not only what the entire caucus thought and I thought, that is what the vast majority of our staff also believed was the case,” Harper told reporters in Hay River, NWT.

The trial is likely to become even more sticky for the Conservative campaign, as two key lawyers are expected to testify on the negotiations inside Harper’s office around repayment of the senator’s expenses.

Janice Payne, Duffy’s lawyer in 2013, and Benjamin Perrin, then a PMO lawyer, are expected to be defence and Crown witnesses respectively.

Both took part in a March 22, 2013 conference call with Novak and Wright. Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke said Novak was on the first part of the call, but didn’t hear discussion of Wright’s cheque.

Teneycke could not comment on what Novak did hear during the call — a blank that defence attorney Donald Bayne is likely to try to fill if and when Payne and Perrin testify.

A day after the conference call, Wright wrote to Novak and Perrin directly: “I think her approach works. I will send my cheque on Monday.”

Three days later, Wright sent the cheque to Payne’s office.

Novak and others weren’t just told about Wright’s decision to repay the $90,000, they were also told about a plan a month earlier to have the party pay for both Payne’s legal bills and Duffy’s expenses.

In an email Wright sent to Novak on Feb. 22, Wright directs Novak to read a chain of emails on negotiations with Payne, calling it the “state of play.”

“We are ready to move when we hear back from his lawyer,” Wright tells Novak.

One element of that “state of play,” copied to Novak, contains Wright’s comment that “the party is open to keeping Sen. Duffy whole since it is clear that any overpayments were innocently received. I have a call into the party to confirm this, as I think that the senator has a right to have it confirmed.”

Duffy’s lawyer pointedly raised Novak’s name during the proceedings on Friday. He has referred to Novak as a “conduit” to Harper.

“He’s not there for plausible deniability…he’s not there for that?” Bayne asked.

Wright responded: “Ray … was the No. 2 person, senior member in the PMO and he’s entitled to know what’s going on.”

Stephen Lecce, another member of Harper’s current campaign team, was also copied on those points of negotiation. Later, Lecce helped draft the media lines that Duffy would use when telling the public it was he (not the party or Wright) who would repay his expenses.

Lecce did not respond to a request for comment.

Another figure who appears in the email exchanges is party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, who Payne emails in March 2013 to inquire about “when we can expect to be in funds.

The Conservative financial fund chief Sen. Irving Gerstein was consulted by Wright on having the party pay for Duffy’s expenses when they were first estimated at $32,000.

“These are the actions of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright. You hold people responsible for their own actions, you certainly don’t hold subordinates responsible for the actions of their superiors,” Harper told reporters Friday.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Town of Ponoka and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) have ratified a new agreement, averting a strike. (File photo from Facebook)
Alberta gov’t ‘using pandemic as shield to lay off workers,’ says AUPE

The Government of Alberta’s “attacks on workers” is continuing with a new… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House RCMP, EMS, Search and Rescue, STARS air ambulance and Alstrom Helicopters worked together to rescue a fallen ice climber Friday. (Photo contributed by Rocky Mountain House RCMP)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP help rescue fallen ice climber

Rocky Mountain RCMP helped assist a fallen ice climber Friday afternoon. At… Continue reading

Students Association of Red Deer College president Brittany Lausen says she’s pleased the college is offering students a choice to attend class in-person or remotely. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Red Deer College winter term enrolment dips

Enrolment down about six per cent but mix of online and in-person instruction is going over well

Brett Salomons, of Salomons Commercial, and Mark Jones, CEO of the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre, in the CACAC's new temporary home. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre’s One Day Challenge returns

Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre has announced its One Day Challenge is… Continue reading

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

A Suncor logo is shown at the company's annual meeting in Calgary, Thursday, May 2, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Body of worker whose bulldozer fell through ice on inactive tailings pond recovered

FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Oilpatch giant Suncor says the body of a… Continue reading

A restaurant manager in Orlando used a sign to secretly ask an 11-year-old boy if he needs help from his family after they were spotted withholding food from him. (Photo courtesy Orlando Police Department)
WATCH: Restaurant manager uses secret note to ‘rescue’ child, says Orlando Police

The manager of an Orlando restaurant is receiving praise from police after… Continue reading

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will cripple struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

VICTORIA — A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,… Continue reading

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police "E" Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. A young snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged mountain trail on Vancouver's north shore Thursday has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snowshoer dies after overnight search on Vancouver-area mountain: RCMP

SQUAMISH, B.C. — A snowshoer who set out alone on a rugged… Continue reading

nunavut
‘It was joyous:’ Sun returns to some Nunavut communities for first time in weeks

IQALUIT — A sliver of orange rose over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, earlier… Continue reading

People take photos through the extensive security surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, ahead of the inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Less pomp, very different circumstances as D.C. prepares to inaugurate Biden, Harris

WASHINGTON — Some pomp. Very different circumstances. Inauguration day is supposed to… Continue reading

Winnipeg Jets' Nathan Beaulieu (88) and Nikolaj Ehlers (27) defend against Jansen Harkins (12) during scrimmage at their NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Winnipeg Jets cancel practice due to possible COVID-19 exposure

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets have cancelled their practice today due to… Continue reading

Most Read