Opposition hammers Harper over Wright deal for 2nd straight day
Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013 12:31PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 29, 2013 10:28PM EDT
The opposition continued its attempts to hold Prime Minister Stephen Harper's feet to the fire over the deepening Senate expense scandal, using Wednesday’s question period to ask about what Harper knew and when he knew it.
Both Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked relatively short, direct questions about Harper’s knowledge of the $90,172 cheque Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright gave to Sen. Mike Duffy to repay ineligible expenses.
Mulcair also forced Harper to admit that Wright, who resigned from the Prime Minister’s Office, is entitled to a severance package from taxpayers.
“We are required to pay certain amounts under law, such as certain accumulated vacation pay. Those policies are clear. The government cannot work around them,” Harper said. “Mr. Wright will be paid only those amounts of money.”
Mulcair countered by saying Wright is “entitled to his entitlements.”
Both Mulcair and Trudeau asked Harper specifically about an email from Feb. 20, in which Duffy is purported to have said that he stayed silent about his deal with Wright on the orders of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mulcair asked to know who in Harper’s office has a copy of that email.
“I understand this is an email of Mr. Duffy, a former Conservative senator,” Harper replied. “As we know well, the activities of Mr. Duffy are being looked into by the appropriate authorities, and any and all information we have will be shared with those authorities.”
When asked if the RCMP, which is reviewing documents related to the Senate expense matter, had contacted the PMO to obtain a copy of that email or any other documents, Harper replied: “To my knowledge, we’ve had no such contact.
“But that of course would be different, I understand, than the leader of the NDP, who after 17 years of apparently knowing about the activities of the mayor of Laval, who is now charged with various offences, did not reveal that information to the public and the police until very recently. Any information we have that is relevant we will reveal.”
Harper used many of his answers to go on the attack about the fact Mulcair only recently revealed that at a 1994 meeting with then-Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, he was presented with an envelope of unknown contents. Mulcair says he never contacted police because he had no proof that he was being offered a bribe. Vaillancourt is currently facing several corruption-related charges.
Mulcair was undeterred by Harper’s comments about the Vaillancourt matter, asking the prime minister how he knew that the $90,000 was written on a personal cheque from Wright.
Harper replied “that is what Mr. Wright said,” and pointed out that his former chief of staff’s actions are now the subject of a probe by Canada’s Ethics Commissioner, Mary Dawson.
Before question period, Mulcair said he was dissatisfied with Harper’s answer to his question on Tuesday about whether he had discussed the matter with his cabinet, calling it “an important question.”
When he got to question period on Wednesday, Mulcair once again asked, in French, “When did the illegal expenditure file get discussed at cabinet for the first time?”
Harper responded in French that “the NDP leader knows full well that we do not discuss those issues at cabinet,” and switched to English to reiterate that “these matters were not a matter of public business at any point.”
Trudeau also used his time in question period Wednesday -- much as he did the day before -- to question the timeline of Harper’s knowledge of the Wright payment.
“Yesterday the prime minister said that he did not learn about his chief of staff’s $90,000 payment to Mike Duffy until Wed. May 15,” Trudeau said. “Yet, media contacted his office on the afternoon of Tuesday the 14th to comment on the payment. His office and Mike Duffy then released identical statements on the source of that payment. How does the prime minister reconcile his assertion that he did not know about the scandal until Wednesday if his office responded the afternoon before?”
Harper maintained his position that he was only informed “of this particular matter on the morning of May 15, that is why I did not know that on the afternoon of May 14.”
Until May 15, Harper said, “it was my understanding, this caucus’s understanding, this government’s understanding that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses using his own resources.”