High-stakes Canadian trial could hit government next year

Tue Sep 23, 2014 12:44pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The trial of a suspended Canadian senator who was once a political ally of Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatens to damage the chances of the governing Conservatives in next year's general election.

Senator Mike Duffy, a former high-profile television reporter who was a star performer for the right-leaning Conservatives, will go on trial in April on 31 criminal charges, including bribery and breach of trust, lawyers said on Tuesday.

The election is set for Oct. 19, 2015.

The trial, which has been scheduled for 41 days in April, May and June, will take place as the Conservatives ramp up their election preparations.

Polls show that if the vote were held now, the party would most likely lose power to the opposition Liberals, who are led by Justin Trudeau, son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

The scandal is one of the most serious to hit the Conservatives, who came to power in early 2006 promising to increase government accountability. Critics say the affair shows the party cannot be trusted.

"It's not exactly the message the government wants to be talking about over the space of a critical run-up to the next election," said Darrell Bricker, chief executive officer of polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs.

"My suspicion is that it will be a problem."   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa September 16, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie