In a scandal where even seasoned MPs and senators were persuaded to sing from the PMO songbook, a lone Conservative staff member stood his ground on parliamentary ethics.
Chris Montgomery is the plucky but soft-spoken Tory who said “no” when he was asked by some of the most powerful people in the country to help tinker with a Senate report on Sen. Mike Duffy’s questionable housing expenses.
The details of Montgomery’s stand were laid out in an 80-page RCMP court filing, released publicly this week. The documents describe a plan hatched between the Prime Minister’s Office and Duffy to have his expenses repaid, while making sure a Senate report into the matter treated him with kid gloves.
Nigel Wright, Harper’s former chief of staff, and Duffy face allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The allegations have not been proven in court, and no one has yet been charged.
Montgomery, who has since joined the private sector, was the director of parliamentary affairs for former Conservative Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton for six years. His online LinkedIn profile says he was there to “exercise sound judgment in guaranteeing that agendas were advanced in accordance with minister’s mandates.”
But when the agenda of the PMO involved manipulating Senate committees, and shaping a Senate report, Montgomery balked.
Discussions began in February about how to ensure a Senate rules committee would make a favourable declaration on Duffy and his residency requirements. Questions had been raised in the media about whether he was legally able to represent Prince Edward Island when he appeared to live most of the time in Ottawa.
If that committee wouldn’t play ball, the PMO talked about stacking a whole new subcommittee to do it.
“Chris simply does not believe in our goal of circling the wagons,” Wright complained in an email about Montgomery.
“Because of this lack of buy in, it was impossible to discuss meaningfully the parliamentary strategy…”
Montgomery also told police that he ignored a request from Wright to keep tabs on Duffy to make sure where he stood on the plan.
“He did not want to get involved in the audit process,” RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton wrote in his court filing.
Eventually, a deal was struck with Duffy to have his expenses repaid. Part of the agreement was to ensure that an independent audit and ensuing Senate report didn’t wade into the question of his residency.
The Prime Minister’s Office and key senators moved to strip a Senate report of paragraphs critical of Duffy. They held a meeting with Senate staff a day before the report was made public. Montgomery again said no.
“He gave advice to senators (Carolyn) Stewart Olsen and (David) Tkachuk not to amend the report as they had an obligation to the Senate to give a rationale for having reclaimed the money from Duffy,” wrote Horton.
Montgomery also appeared to try to remind Harper’s office of the autonomy of Senate committees.
“He advised the PMO … that they should not be involved in the Senate audit and reports regarding Sen. Duffy,” Horton wrote, noting that the PMO pushed forward anyway.
“During his seven years in the Senate, (Montgomery) cannot recall other times when representatives from the PMO actually attended meetings and insisted on wording of a Senate report.”
Harper’s office was apparently not amused.
“I am in a meeting with Montgomery, LeBreton, (LeBreton staffer) Sandy (Melo), CSO (Stewart Olsen). This is epic. Montgomery is the Problem,” Patrick Rogers, the prime minister’s manager of parliamentary affairs, wrote to Wright.
“Should I come over?” Wright responded.
“We’re done, Patrick made it happen,” came a response from another staff member, director of issues management Chris Woodcock. It’s not clear from the RCMP files how Rogers ensured the report was altered in that meeting.
Montgomery is described by one Conservative as “smart, principled and soft spoken.” A Liberal who worked with Montgomery in the Senate said he is “genuinely a nice guy — very professional in how he approached his work here.”
The McGill University graduate worked with the Progressive Conservative party in western Canada and then the new Conservative party before joining the government in 2006. He now works as a communications manager at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary.
Current Conservative Leader Claude Carignan said he tried unsuccessfully to hire Montgomery when LeBreton left the post earlier this year.
Montgomery did not respond to a request for comment.