Harper defends handling of Duffy affair as trial resumes
Michelle Zilio, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, August 12, 2015 10:48AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 12, 2015 10:34PM EDT
Hours after the Mike Duffy trial resumed in Ottawa Wednesday, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper found himself defending his involvement in the affair.
Speaking to reporters in Vancouver, Harper reiterated that he did not know about the infamous $90,000 cheque his former chief of staff Nigel Wright wrote to help Duffy pay back his questionable Senate expenses.
“Mr. Wright was working with Mr. Duffy to make sure he did repay them, and that’s what we were told was going to happen. When I found out that was not what happened, that in fact they’d been repaid by somebody else, we made that information public and we took appropriate action against people who were involved in that,” said Harper.
Harper said he always felt that Duffy should repay the expenses, and ordered the former Conservative senator to do so.
“I did not believe Mr. Duffy’s expenses could be justified and I thought he should repay them,” said Harper.
Opposition leaders link resumed Duffy trial to Harper
Earlier Wednesday, the NDP and Liberal leaders jumped at the opportunity to use the trial as political leverage against Harper.
Speaking from Regina, Sask. Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Ottawa’s focus on the Duffy trial will not bode well for the Conservative party during this election campaign.
“What we are going see in the coming days out of Ottawa is what happens when a government becomes more focused on its own survival than on serving Canadians the best possible way,” said Trudeau, reminding his audience that Harper once said he wouldn’t appoint any senators, and subsequently appointed 59.
“We cannot believe this prime minister when it comes to promises around the Senate or democratic reform,” Trudeau said.
Earlier Wednesday, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said there is more at stake than just Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright and the $90,000 he gave Duffy to repay Senate expenses.
“Nigel Wright might be on the witness stand, but it’s Stephen Harper who’s on trial,” Mulcair said during a campaign stop in Levis, Que.
Mulcair said the trial will finally set the record straight, and prove why Harper doesn’t deserve another four years in power.
Determined to draw as much attention as possible to the Duffy trial, the NDP sent ethics critic Charlie Angus to the trial in Ottawa to discuss Wright’s testimony and promote the party’s “plan to fight Senate corruption.” Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Wednesday, Angus questioned Wright’s decision to help Duffy repay the expenses.
“What kind of corruption was going on in the prime minister’s office that this was considered an okay way of doing business,” said Angus. “I think this really goes back to the judgement of the prime minister.”
The trial resumed in Ottawa on Wednesday, with Wright taking the stand first. Wright is expected to clarify his role in helping Duffy repay approximately $90,000 in questionable Senate expense claims back in 2013. Harper has denied any knowledge of the payment.
Duffy faces 31 charges, including fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Duffy is currently on a leave of absence from the Senate. He was formerly suspended for his questionable expense claims, along with fellow former Conservative senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. All three suspensions were lifted when Parliament was dissolved earlier this month for the election.