OTTAWA — MPs personally drove Mike Duffy to fundraising events in their ridings, where his celebrity status was sure to get buzz, if not always bucks, for the Conservative Party, the suspended senator’s trial heard Friday.
Former Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro and current MP Cathy McLeod are the latest in a string of Conservatives to testify about the star power he represented.
Del Mastro once drove Duffy from Ottawa to Peterborough, Ont, in his limited edition, bright red, Dodge Charger, a car he was very proud of, court heard.
When Duffy agreed to appear at a McLeod event in the Okanagan, she picked him up in a convertible with the top down.
It wasn’t just his caucus-mates who treated him like a rock star, Del Mastro suggested in his telephone testimony.
He told the court about a cup of coffee he had with Duffy one summer day in 2010 at a Tim Hortons in his home riding of Peterborough, Ont., where they talked about a number of issues.
The duo were soon surrounded by well-wishers and even posed for pictures, Del Mastro testified.
But returning to an issue that’s vexed the trial since it began in April, Del Mastro said Duffy was not in town that day simply to meet him.
“They were attending a dog show,” Del Mastro said of Duffy and his wife.
Duffy billed the Senate for that trip to Peterborough, citing public business to discuss broadcasting issues, but as far back as its opening arguments, the Crown has argued that it was little more than a “shopping trip” for a new dog.
But it emerged earlier this week that Duffy didn’t actually buy a dog that day, undermining the Crown’s line of reasoning.
Del Mastro appeared to confirm, however, that Duffy did talk about broadcasting. The former Tory said he was thinking of starting an Internet show to feature MPs, arguing the public often has the wrong perception of them and he discussed the idea with Duffy.
Allegations about public funds used to pay for personal trips are among the 31 criminal charges for fraud, breach of trust and bribery which Duffy faces.
Del Mastro was convicted last fall of violating the Canada Elections Act during the 2008 election and is currently awaiting sentencing. He resigned his seat after the verdict.
Duffy was one of a handful of stars in caucus, Del Mastro said, second only to former finance minister Jim Flaherty as someone who could get people out for riding association events.
The one Duffy did for Del Mastro only broke even though, court heard. Del Mastro blamed badly organized volunteers.
But the McLeod event was better. She said about 100 people attended and not only did her riding association make money, it also signed up new members.
Duffy’s defence has argued that Senate rules allow for travel to partisan events provided they aren’t during an election or related to a nomination contest or a formal party convention.
McLeod told Duffy lawyer Donald Bayne that her event didn’t fit any of those caveats.
Friday’s testimony is to be the last for three weeks as the trial is set to take a scheduled break.