'No one believes this prime minister' MP argues, as Senate scandal rolls on
Prime Minister Stephen Harper continued to defend himself Friday as serious questions persist about his potential involvement in an arrangement for his former chief of staff to pay Sen. Mike Duffy’s ineligible expense claims.
“For those who are concerned about the Senate scandal, I only need to point out that it was this party, the Conservative Party, who required for the first time transparency on Senate expenses,” Harper said in Winnipeg, moments after helping to open a new stretch of highway. “And [it is] only this party, the Conservative Party, that has sanctioned those who have not respected the rules.”
Harper took only a handful of reporters’ questions before retreating from the podium, saying little else about the scandal that continues to dominate politics in Ottawa.
Earlier in the week, a sworn RCMP affidavit came to light suggesting that Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, checked with the prime minister before finalizing a deal to pay Duffy’s ineligible expense claims from the Conservative Fund when they were believed to total about $32,000.
In a Feb. 22 email, Wright said: “I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final.” An hour later, Wright wrote: “We are good to go from the PM.”
Prime Minister Harper has continued to insist that the “good to go” meant the green light on Mr. Duffy repaying his own expenses, not having the party pay for them.
On page 71 of the affidavit, Cpl. Greg Horton says has “seen no evidence that the Prime Minister was involved in having Senator Duffy’s legal bills paid. The evidence I have viewed suggests that the Prime Minister was informed by his staff that they were working on a plan to have Senator Duffy repay expenses.”
Duffy’s expenses actually amounted to more than $90,000, and the RCMP alleges that Wright broke the law by giving Duffy the money to cover them.
The affidavit also includes correspondence between staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office and Conservative senators about an audit that was being conducted on Duffy’s expenses. An email trail suggests that Benjamin Perrin, former special counsel to the prime minister, and Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, were involved in the deal that would see Duffy’s expenses covered by Wright.
The Law Society of British Columbia is now considering an investigation into Perrin.
CTV News has also learned that the Senate’s internal economy committee met in secret Thursday and voted to recall the Deloitte auditors after the RCMP affidavit revealed that Sen. Irving Gerstein, chair of the Conservative Fund, allegedly used contacts at the firm, which also does work for the Conservative Party, to determine if the Duffy audit could be quashed.
On Mar. 21, according the affidavit, Gerstein contacted PMO staffer Patrick Rogers to say Deloitte refused his request to stop its audit into Duffy’s expenses.
In question period on Friday, opposition party members expressed disbelief that the plan for Wright to pay Duffy’s expenses, as well Gerstein’s involvement, could have gone on under the prime minister’s nose.
“Did the entire Conservative fraud squad lie to the prime minister, is that the government’s position?” asked Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.
Conservative MP Paul Calandra, answering questions on the prime minister’s behalf, insisted that Harper did not know about the arrangement between Wright and Duffy, but did not directly answer whether or not he knew of Gerstein’s efforts to get the audit quashed.
“The prime minister has said on a number of occasions he would never have let this happen,” Calandra said, insisting that Harper ordered for his office to fully cooperate with the RCMP once learning about the arrangement between Wright and Duffy.
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said that “absolutely no one, no one believes this prime minster.”
“What’s scary is that we have a fraud squad that works out of the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said.
With files from Andrea Janus