How Mike Duffy Huffed and Puffed and Blew the House Down

Mike Duffy

Mike Duffy proved himself to be effective on the after-dinner speech-and-shakedown circuit, and in exchange for this service the Conservative Party of Canada was willing to turn its gaze from the very things which are now threatening to bring the party down.

I WAS NEVER an enthusiast of Frank magazine, but no one living in Ottawa at the height of its notoriety — from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s — could entirely ignore it. By the time of its demise it had sunk, in my view, to the mental and moral level of a frothy mob. Good satire is a matter of discernment, knowing just who to attack and on what foundation. An example is condensed in the brilliant coinage The Puffster, Geoff Heinricks’ name for the journalist-turned-trough-feeder Mike Duffy. In the ’90s, he was the subject of an ongoing satirical campaign which culminated in a defamation lawsuit (a common occurrence at Frank) later settled out of court. “Puffster” economically and comprehensively summed up the self-regarding Duffy, capturing in one word his swollen ego together with his lack of moral and intellectual gravity.

It’s worth recalling the occasion of the Frank lawsuit. Three times nominated for the Order of Canada, and three times declined, Mike Duffy attached the magazine’s campaign against him to the frustrations of his appetite for ever-expanding servings of pomp and applause. Frank editor Michael Bate, who with Duffy circulated Ottawa’s political puddles, recently penned a retrospective sketching the familiar arc: the humble country origins, the craving for accolades and fame, the pilgrimage to the centers of power, and the eventual rewards. Those of us who remember the Mike Duffy of the 1980s and 1990s have no trouble at all imagining what he would have done with, and to, a specimen like the current Senator from Cavendish. To say that the treatment would be pitiless and to the jugular would hardly suffice. Yet the Duffy who excoriated Wellington Street’s pampered hypocrites was all the while scheming how to be of their world, rather than merely in it.

If you have spent any time in Ottawa, you can name at least a few ardent strivers of this sort. And if you write for the papers, you may even be one of them. Duffy’s weakness for the dropping of names as well as for other species of vainglory, well attested by Bates, are the occupational hazards of Parliament Hill. Mike Duffy distinguished himself by holding the winning ticket to a lottery. Damage of an unspecifiable sort has likely been done to the Senate, but it happens also that this scandal has yielded us a peek into the broader political culture of the payoff. Remember that Harper came to power by defeating Stéphane Dion, and that Mike Duffy was found in breach of Canadian broadcasting ethics for his ambush-and-hatchet work of using Dion’s false starts from a CTV interview conducted by Steve Murphy. Broadcast late in the election campaign, the footage of a confused Liberal leader abetted perceptions of the candidate as a bumbler, perhaps even a functional monoglot. There was nothing to the decision to air the interview’s preamble — the “false start” is a common occurrence, and is routinely edited out — except Duffy’s eagerness to project into the corridors of power his credentials as a dirty and willing partisan operative.

Note that, as in the case of Patrick Brazeau, the supplication to power was generously answered. Duffy further proved himself to be effective on the after-dinner speech-and-shakedown circuit, and in exchange for this service the Conservative Party of Canada was willing to turn its gaze from the very things which are now threatening to bring the party down. And who can doubt the bringing-down is deserved, as it had been years earlier for the Liberals.

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