Newly-minted Conservative Senator Mike Duffy withdrew his comments describing two male politicians in bed as “grotesque,” but he stopped short of an apology.
According to the Chronicle Herald, Duffy first made the comments at a Tory meeting in PEI on Jan 31. He repeated them in his first speech in the upper chamber on Feb 3, while talking about budget equalization payments.
“I was disappointed to see that our dynamic young Premier in Prince Edward Island, Robert Ghiz, has climbed into bed with the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, and honourable senators know what a grotesque scene that is,” said Duffy in the Senate.
“Do honourable senators know what happens when two politicians climb into bed together? One of them comes out on top and I am afraid that when one is in bed with Danny Williams he will come out on top, and I would hate to see where that will leave PEI in the end.”
It wasn’t until Senate question period the next day that the Opposition brought it up as the lead question.
Liberal Senator Joan Cook asked Marjory LeBreton, leader of the Government in the Senate, to step in.
“Does the leader condone and associate herself with the remark made by her colleague Senator Duffy in his maiden speech yesterday regarding premiers Williams and Ghiz?”
LeBreton said that she hadn’t studied the speech but added that all senators can speak freely in the chamber. Senator Lillian Eva Dyck then asked whether LeBreton would agree that there was “an appropriate standard of speech which we must uphold and that we should set a high standard?”
LeBreton’s response was to leave the matter up to the Speaker.
After question period, opposition senators weren’t about to let the matter go. Senator Claudette Tardif, deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate, rose on a point of order. Citing rule 51 of the Rules of the Senate, Tardif called Duffy’s comments “sexist; they are offensive to senators; they are offensive to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador; and they are offensive to Canadians.”
While it is curious that Tardif characterized the remarks as “sexist” rather than homophobic, Tardif nevertheless said that she had every confidence that Duffy did not mean the offence and asked him to retract the comments and apologize.
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth said Thursday morning that while it may not have been apparent from the transcripts, the debate was actually quite heated in the chamber.
Duffy refused to apologize, saying that he had only been telling “the truth,” which was his job.
But which part was he supposedly telling the truth about? His criticism of Ghiz positioning himself on the budget with Williams, or his assessment of William’s apparent sexual prowess?
At this point, furore erupted. Premier Ghiz said it was unfortunate that Duffy would choose partisanship over the interests of the province he represents. Premier Williams accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of pulling Duffy’s strings.
Liberals were especially critical, recalling Duffy’s decision in the last election to air the videotape of then-leader Stéphane Dion misunderstanding a question in an interview. They say his appointment to the Senate was a reward for those partisan actions.
Despite his refusal to apologize, Duffy briefly addressed the issue in the Senate on Feb 5: “Honourable senators, if the metaphor I used in my speech on Feb 3 was offensive to some members of this chamber, I withdraw the metaphor.”
In other words, not an apology, but an underhanded jab that it was other people who had a problem. However, the Senate Speaker now considers the matter closed.
It is also interesting to note that in some of the televised broadcasts of the news story, they left out Duffy’s characterization of two premiers in bed as “grotesque,” simply quoting the sentence about Williams coming out on top.
While the Senate is noted for not being as rancorous in its partisanship as the Commons given its mandate as being a house of “sober second thought,” this incident is not an auspicious beginning to Duffy’s Senate career.