If his latest poor-me pronouncements weren’t so outrageously obnoxious—not to mention flagrantly false—we would be wise to treat disgraced, and disgraceful former MLA Russell MacKinnon with the mocking contempt he’s richly earned.
The Finance Department made me do it… The Finance Department made me do it…
MacKinnon, one of four MLAs whose entitled-to-their-entitlements expense claims were so egregious they warranted actual criminal charges, arrived for his trial two week s ago, loudly proclaiming his innocence. Three days later, he copped a mid-trial plea like a common thief when it became clear he couldn’t sell his convoluted contortionist’s explanations for his bad behavior.
He pled guilty to one count of breach of trust and got a sweetheart deal. Four months’ house arrest, with numerous get-out-of-the-house free cards, four months’ curfew, a year’s probation.
Unfortunately for MacKinnon’s reputation—and our blood pressure—his sentence didn’t come with a muzzle.
MacKinnon has spent the past week playing the aggrieved. “I didn’t defraud the government of five cents, not a penny… I got the bejesus kicked out of me for the last three years over this, and I didn’t do anything wrong… I pleaded guilty to breach of trust because I believe MLAs are held to a higher standard, and I have to take responsibility even though the fault lies with the Department of Finance…”
Oh, let’s not bother responding to his truth twisting.
No wonder people are upset. No wonder the call by the we-hate-any-government-anywhere-anytime-anyway Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation to eliminate pension benefits for former MLAs convicted of crimes has traction.
But we need to pause, take a breath.
The real problem here isn’t with MLAs convicted of breaching their public trust continuing to draw pensions to which they contributed, and to which they—and, more importantly, their families—are legally entitled.
It’s with the MLA pensions themselves. By most anyone’s standards, they’re incredibly rich and wrongly funded out of regular operating revenues rather than investments.
By all means, let’s reform the MLA pension system.
But let’s not set a bad precedent by taking away someone’s legally earned pension benefits. There’s no telling where that could lead.
Let’s just accept that Russell MacKinnon’s behavior is beneath and beyond contempt—and move on to more important matters.
Like MLA pension reform.
What was he thinking? That he could baffle, buffalo, bamboozle past way too many inconvenient contradictions from too many witnesses with too little to gain to lie about what he’d done? That the law wouldn’t apply to him because he’d been an MLA and Liberal cabinet minister?
On Friday—after four days of a scheduled five-day trial and in the middle of his own credulity-stretching testimony—Russell MacKinnon caved, signed a hastily cobbled together one-page written statement of agreed facts and copped to a plea of a breach of the public trust.
By the end of the day and after an apology that wasn’t—“I would like to apologize for allowing the matter to come this far”—MacKinnon managed to walk away from it all with no jail time. Just a ruler-to-the-knuckles eight-month conditional sentence.
In 2006, MLA MacKinnon submitted $3,400 in receipts for work done by constituency secretary Nicole Campbell. The problems: Campbell never did the work and never received the money. MacKinnon did.
He also submitted $7,500 in receipts for work done by George MacKeigan, his executive assistant. Again, MacKeigan never saw the cash; MacKinnon kept it.
Four years later—after an auditor general’s report triggered an investigation that led Canada Revenue Agency to issue T4A slips to MacKinnon’s former aides for the payments they’d never been paid—the whole sordid mess unraveled.
At that point, MacKinnon doubled down on his deceit, showing up on the doorsteps of his former aides with cash peace offerings to make his wrongs right.
Even after that didn’t wash, MacKinnon still had the audacity to take up valuable court time with his far-fetched versions and that-never-happened stories.
Until late Thursday when his wife, NDP MLA Michele Raymond, and his lawyer, Joel Pink, decided Judge Felix Cacchione wasn’t buying the soap MacKinnon was selling.
“You watch your client, you watch the body language of the judge and you try to make a determination as to how the judge is reacting to the evidence,” Pink explained later.
Russell MacKinnon should have gone to jail.
Not so much for what he did. But for what he didn’t do. Apologize. And take real responsibility for his actions.
He didn't. Pity.
The old Young Mike Duffy would have been all over it.
A Senator playing fast and loose with parliamentary rules of residence, claiming as his full-time home a modest bungalow of a summer cottage that hasn’t seen a snowplow in a year’s worth of winters.
A Senator pocketing more than $30,000 for the inconvenience of residing in rustic, rural Cavendish, P.E.I., 1,333 km (as the Google crow flies) from his Senate workplace at 111 Wellington Street in Ottawa—while actually bedding down in a comfortable Ottawa suburb.
Not to forget the spectacle of a Senator—having been caught with his fingers in the fudging and futzing jar—applying for a fast-tracked Prince Edward Island health card in order to make wrong appear right.
The former Mike Duffy would have been in his element.
One has to—almost—feel sorry for the old New Mike Duffy, now being brought low by all those new Old Mike Duffys.
Young Mike Duffy launched his career in the mid-1960s as a deejay—the “Round Mound of Sound”—at Amherst radio station CKDH. After discovering his nose for news, Duffy moved on to then-Halifax station CHNS where his gleefully non-partisan, neither-fear-nor-favour scoops from City Hall and the provincial legislature earned him an enviable reportorial reputation, which earned him a position in CBC’s parliamentary bureau, which earned him his own star billing at CTV, which…Well, that’s where things soured.
Duffy began to believe his own publicity hype—and in his own self-worth. He lobbied for his Senate appointment and, when he landed it in 2008, assumed himself entitled to his entitlements. Including $900 a month to live part of the year in Ottawa where, of course, he has lived virtually all of the years since the 1970s.
New Mike Duffy, of course, is less than amused by his latest turn of misfortune, chiding reporters after a speech in Halifax last week to do some “adult” work instead of bothering him with trivial matters about where he lives and how much he claims for not living there.
Sorry Mike. Those who live by the microphone sometimes get hit on the head with it on their way out the door.
So long, Senator.
Let’s review. On February 3, 2010, Auditor General Jacques Lapointe reported some Nova Scotia MLAs played fast and loose with their expense accounts.
One year after that—on February 14, 2011—RCMP charged three former and one sitting MLA with the criminal equivalent of fast and loose.
Today—17 months after those charges, 30 months after that report—only two of those cases have completely navigated the legal system, and only because the MLAs pleaded guilty.
Two didn’t. Former NDP-now-Independent MLA Trevor Zinck is due back in court in September just to set dates for his trial. Former Liberal MLA Russell MacKinnon’s trial isn’t scheduled to begin until March 2013—37 months after the A-G’s report.
By the time those trials—and appeals—play out, I’ll be more than pensionable. The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the Stanley Cup...
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right to be tried within a reasonable time period.
Last month, an accused in the 2011 Stanley Cup riots appeared in Vancouver court to have her trial date set: Fall 2013.
While the court deemed that reasonable, British Columbia judges threw out 109 other charges last year because cases had taken too long to reach them. How long must they have taken.
In Ontario in April, a man accused of using a stolen identity to sneak into Canada two-and-a-half years ago had charges against him stayed because of delays.
What’s the solution? Hire more judges? Improve disclosure? Impose new rules to speed up trials?
I don’t know, but I do know that if we care about justice-delayed-is-justice-denied, we need to start talking about this issue—and stop allowing the Harper government to see building more jails to house more people for longer periods as the solution to everything.
Consider. Seventeen years after a group of Port Hawkesbury men went to the RCMP to complain they’d been sexually abused as children by Fenwick MacIntosh, they’re still waiting for justice. This fall, the Supreme Court of Canada will decide whether to uphold this year’s Nova Scotia Appeal Court decision to acquit MacIntosh—not because the judges believed he didn’t commit the crimes but because the case had taken so long, it “prejudiced his right to a fair trial.”
You can—in a law-school-essay, sentencing-guidelines way—justify Justice David MacAdam’s decision to sentence disgraced former MLA Richard Hurlburt to house arrest instead of clapping him off to jail.
But not in the real world.
Richard Hurlburt repeatedly violated the trust of his electors while bilking taxpayers of more than $25,000, and then attempted—until the truth trapped him—to justify his actions.
In his decision, MacAdam argued “there were no other aggravating factors… other than abuse of his position of trust.”
Is that not aggravating enough?
MacAdam also did his best to draw distinctions between Hurlburt’s case and that of fellow former MLA Dave Wilson, who is now serving jail time in the expense scandal.
While Wilson had claimed expenses in the names of other people, the judge pointed out, there was no evidence Hurlburt “involved anyone else” in his illegal dealings.
What about the generator salesman, whose price “estimate” Hurlburt turned into a phony invoice and submitted as an expense? What about the taxpayers?
And remember, Dave Wilson was a gambling addict. Hurlburt was just greedy. That to me is especially aggravating.
MacAdams added Hurlburt “resigned shortly after the release of the auditor’s report, a year before charges were brought against him. He has issued repeated public apologies. He has taken full responsibility for his actions.”
Fact check time.
Hurlburt resigned because he’d been caught in his own fraud.
In February 2010, when he was first outed as the purchaser of the $8,000 generator—it took him another week to fess up to the $2,500 TV—Hurlburt didn’t apologize. He claimed the generator had been purchased “to assist local organizations in the event of a power failure.”
In truth, there was no $8,000 generator; he pocketed that money and only bought a cheaper one after the auditor general began poking around.
He also claimed he’d simply followed existing expenses regulations. There is no regulation allowing fraudulent claims.
Hurlburt’s resignation letter did say he was leaving “with deep regret and sorrow.” For what? He didn’t say. He’d already escaped to his vacation home in Florida and unavailable for comment.
Full responsibility? Not by a long shot.
I don’t envy Justice David MacAdam. Between now and July 27, he must parse the image of Richard Hurlburt as presented in court last week by his friends and colleagues—the “all around good guy” and pillar of his community who never met a community cause he did not support—with the convicted felon who calculatedly bilked taxpayers of more than $25,000.
He must balance the public’s righteous desire to make an example of the disgraced former MLA—the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison—with the reality of the more modest punishments normally handed out to lesser known mortals for similar sins.
And he must weigh how Hurlburt’s case compares to those of other public figures, such as former MLA Dave Wilson who is currently serving nine months in jail in connection with the same legislative expense scandal.
While many MLAs used the excuse of a flawed expenses system to make extravagant, entitled-to-my-entitlements expenditures—remember that $737 espresso machine and those pricey digital cameras—Hurlburt took excess to excess, filing fake claims to scam provincial taxpayers.
He submitted a “quote” for a $9,000 generator, for example, as a paid receipt, only finally buying a much cheaper, see-it-exists version after the auditor general began verifying MLA expenses.
He claimed he’d spent $3,500 for a big screen TV for his constituency office. He actually installed it in his house.
Twice, he submitted end-of-year, non-receipted receipts totaling nearly $13,000 for renovations to his office. There were no renovations.
What makes the already well-to-do Hurlburt’s crimes especially egregious is that—unlike Wilson, who was a gambling addict—there doesn’t appear to have been any explanation for Hurlburt’s actions other than greed.
So what should his punishment be?
I believe there should be actual jail time, but it will likely be modest, six months at most. Since Hurlburt has already paid back the money he stole, the most useful penalty would be to sentence Hurlburt to speak to every high school in the province explaining to them—and to us—how and why an “all around good guy” ended up doing something so wrong.keep looking »