Senate scandal dominates first question period
Published Thursday, October 17, 2013 5:43AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 17, 2013 3:42PM EDT
If the federal government had hoped to change the channel from the Senate expenses scandal with its Throne Speech, the gambit failed, as the New Democrats spent the first question period of the new parliamentary session asking what the prime minister knew of his former chief of staff’s cheque to help Sen. Mike Duffy repay his ineligible expenses.
Hours after his party raised a point of privilege on the matter Thursday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Prime Minister Stephen Harper “needs to take responsibility for this climate of corruption he created.”
“When will the prime minister stand up in this House and tell the truth to Canadians,” Mulcair demanded.
Harper was not present for question period, having boarded a plane earlier in the day to Brussels, Belgium, where he is expected to put the finishing touches on a long-awaited free trade deal with the European Union.
Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre did not respond to the question on the Senate scandal directly, instead accusing the NDP of failing to support trade and economic growth in Canada.
“The Conservative Party supports free trade, the NDP supports no trade, and the Liberals support the drug trade,” Poilievre said, taking a swipe at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s summer musings about legalizing marijuana.
Later, NDP MP Charlie Angus asked about RCMP documents that showed members of the prime minister’s staff -- including former legal adviser Benjamin Perrin, former issues management director Chris Woodcock and Nigel Wright’s executive assistant, David van Hemmen -- knew of the Wright-Duffy deal. The prime minister has long maintained that he only learned of the deal after media reports unveiled it on May 15.
“Does he still maintain on behalf of this shy prime minister that Nigel Wright was the only one in the Prime Minister’s Office who knew about the hush money that was paid out, the $90,000?” Angus asked “Is that the position that he’s going to continue to stand by?”
The prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra replied: “Mr. Wright handled this file on his own, he had no knowledge of the payment until May 15.”
The exchanges in question period followed a point of privilege raised by Angus earlier in the day. Angus demanded a parliamentary committee be convened to decide whether Harper deliberately misled the House of Commons over the Senate expenses scandal.
Angus asked Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer to determine whether Harper was in contempt of Parliament last spring when he repeatedly insisted that no one in his office knew that Wright had issued Duffy a cheque for $90,000 to cover his ineligible Senate expenses.
Angus called on Scheer to make a preliminary finding on the matter. Angus then wants the matter referred to the procedure and House affairs committee.
Parliamentary rules require that points of privilege take precedence over all other business, compelling the Speaker to address the matter before moving on.
Scheer did not immediately rule on the issue, and did not mention it later during question period.
Earlier on Thursday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told CTV's Canada AM that the Senate scandal requires answers.
"Prime Minister Harper last June said something in the House of Commons that was 'unadjacent' to the truth," Mulcair said.
Mulcair says it's unprecedented for a prime minister to suddenly be absent immediately after a throne speech, but he says Harper won't be able to dodge questions for long.
"He can run but he can't hide. We'll eventually be able to ask him those tough questions," he said.