Duffy never attended event that prompted trip to Vancouver, former Tory says

OTTAWA — Mike Duffy reached out to former Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn in 2014 as the RCMP investigated the senator’s expenses, including a taxpayer-funded trip to the West Coast in 2009, court heard Friday.

“My lawyer would like to chat with you on the phone about the event,” Duffy wrote in an October 2014 email that was entered into evidence at the embattled senator’s trial.

The email describes how Duffy flew out for the Saanich Fair, which draws more than 60,000 people annually, and how his appearance at the event was dropped at the “last minute.”

That happened, Duffy suggests, because organizers had procured a different attraction: a version of the torch to be used at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“My memory is you and your team decided that since you had the Olympic torch, my presence wasn’t needed,” Duffy wrote. “It was a last-minute call, but that’s the way it is in politics.”

Duffy, who had also reached out by phone, appeared eager to connect with Lunn. “We need to touch base in case the Crown calls you as a prosecution witness,” he added.

Lunn, who was defeated in his B.C. riding in 2011 by Green party Leader Elizabeth May, testified Friday he did not respond to Duffy’s email. He also ignored a request to connect with Duffy on the professional networking site, LinkedIn.

Lunn said there was a “casual” arrangement for Duffy to attend the Saanich Fair, but he testified Duffy did not attend the event.

And he had a different explanation for why the appearance was cancelled: the local Conservative electoral association didn’t want to foot the senator’s bills, he said.

“There was a conversation about him attending the fair with me in 2009, but it never happened,” Lunn said outside the courthouse following his testimony.

“There was a request to pay for some expenses. The EDA said no; as consequence of that, he never attended.”

The Crown is arguing Duffy improperly charged taxpayers for the cost of travelling to Vancouver so he could attend a family event.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in connection with his housing and travel expenses — the result of a spending controversy that spawned the exhaustive forensic audit currently roiling the ranks of the upper chamber.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson is set to release his findings publicly on Tuesday, but the report has been delivered to the Senate. The files of nine senators — two sitting, seven already retired — are being recommended for referral to the RCMP.

Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a victims-rights champion who was appointed by Harper in 2010, said Thursday he would sit as an Independent after confirming he’s the subject of a police investigation.

Sen. Colin Kenny, the other sitting senator on the RCMP list, marks 31 years in the upper chamber at the end of June after having been appointed by Pierre Trudeau in 1984.

Earlier Friday, Bayne said it was “too early to tell” if the auditor general’s report would make its way into the trial.

The report also flags the expenses of three senior senators: government leader Claude Carignan, Speaker Leo Housakos and opposition leader James Cowan, all of whom played a key role in putting a new arbitration process in place for senators who end up running afoul of the auditor.

“Absolutely” it’s unfair that Duffy did not have access to such a process, Bayne said outside court.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press