CAVENDISH, P.E.I. - P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy spent the day holed up in his Cavendish cottage Thursday as the country reacted to news the celebrity journalist-turned suspended senator now faces 31 criminal charges.
Duffy and his wife, Heather, were both spotted in their cottage on Friendly Lane in P.E.I. Thursday, which itself is a key player in the controversy involving Duffy’s expenses.
The first journalist to arrive after the charges were laid knocked on the door.
“The media’s here, the media’s here,” Heather Duffy was heard saying before opening the door.
Inside, a television was on, tuned to CTV news.
When asked if the senator would come out, Duffy’s wife abruptly replied, “We’re busy,” and slammed the door shut.
A few moments later, Duffy was seen standing inside the screen door, peering down the unpaved lane before he quickly closed the heavier inside door and drew the curtains.
No one replied to subsequent knocks by other hopeful journalists.
A painter emerged from the cottage at one point, indicating Duffy was indeed inside.
When the painter knocked to get back in, Heather Duffy warily peeked from behind the curtain before allowing him inside.
There are five summer residences on Friendly Lane, ranging from an older cottage on posts to a brand new, two-story build right beside Duffy.
One neighbour, who declined to give his name, said that RCMP officers were going door-to-door on Friendly Lane Tuesday.
"My in-laws were here and an RCMP officer knocked on our door two days ago asking questions but my mother-in-law said 'Look, I don't know,’ “ said Duffy's summer-vacationing neighbour.
"Gathering intelligence for Ottawa was the line that the RCMP used,” he said.
When told of the 31 charges laid against the embattled P.E.I. senator Thursday, Islanders reacted with raised eyebrows at the number of charges.
But most said they were not surprised that Duffy will now go to court over his inappropriate expense claims and the $90,000 payment he allegedly received from the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
“We knew the investigation was going on, we knew there was likely going to be charges placed, we just didn’t know to what extent,” said Vincent Hughes in Charlottetown.
“He’s breached the trust of Islanders,” John MacCormac added.
“I’ve already written him off, so hearing this isn’t surprising or even distressing. It’s kind of like Rob Ford. Anything he does now, I’m just ‘eh,’” he said shrugging. “He can’t come back from this.”
The charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery involve Duffy’s claims for living expenses, claims for travel expenses unconnected with Senate business and fraudulent contracts, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud told reporters in Ottawa Thursday.
They also cover the $90,000 payment from Nigel Wright.
Mary-Elyn Keenan said she believes Prime Minister Stephen Harper should face scrutiny over the Senate expenses scandal.
“Wasn’t he aware of all of this happening?” she said.
That’s just what the political Opposition parties in Ottawa have been asking, taking aim Thursday at Harper’s judgment in appointing Duffy in the first place.
“This clearly goes right to the prime minister in so many aspects,” said Malpeque MP Wayne Easter.
“He had to be given advice that Duffy would be challenged on the basis of his residency in Prince Edward Island, and the prime minister appointed Duffy, in my view, not for the good of Prince Edward Islanders, but because he was a well-known spokesman.”
Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, who has a background in law, pointed out charges are never laid in any case unless the crown prosecutor believes there could be a reasonable prospect of conviction.
In cases with multiple charges, they usually end with a plea bargain behind closed doors, he said.
But Casey does not expect that to happen in this case.
“I fully expect that there will be a full-blown trial and a bit of a circus as this all plays out,” Casey said.
“I have no doubt he’s going to put on quite a show.”
Back in Cavendish Thursday, Reegan Culleton from Tyne Valley, was working at Captain Kidds diary bar and take-out at the top of Friendly Lane, in view of Duffy's cottage.
"I haven't seen him yet this summer (at the take-out)," said Culleton.
"We have seen him going through, in and out (of his lane) but he hasn't stopped in.
"He hasn't been there every day, kind of intermittent, in and out,” said Culleton of Duffy’s presence in Cavendish. "Doesn't seem to be a pattern to it."
(By The Guardian's Teresa Wright and Nigel Armstrong)