Harper shuns reporters amidst questions of who knew about Duffy payment
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hit the Calgary Stampede Friday but steered clear of reporters, who were kept at a distance after the latest revelations in the Senate expense scandal.
Harper and his wife, Laureen, clad in cowboy hats, took in the sights and sounds of the Stampede without speaking to media, a day after court documents indicated three top officials in the Prime Minister’s Office knew that then-chief of staff Nigel Wright gave Sen. Mike Duffy $90,000 to repay ineligible living expenses.
Harper has long maintained that Wright acted alone.
“It was Mr. Wright who made the decision to take his personal funds and give those to Mr. Duffy so that Mr. Duffy could reimburse the taxpayers,” the prime minister said in the House of Commons on June 5, during daily question period.
“Those were his decisions. They were not communicated to me or to members of my office.”
But RCMP affidavits, obtained by CTV and The Globe and Mail on Thursday, revealed that Wright’s lawyers told the Mounties in late June that three top officials in the PMO also knew of the deal:
- Benjamin Perrin, Harper’s legal counsel, who had previously denied knowledge of the arrangement in a statement to CTV.
- David Van Hemmen, Wright’s executive assistant.
- Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in the PMO.
The opposition accused Harper of misleading Canadians about his knowledge of the arrangement.
“The prime minister stood up in Parliament day after day with his key ministers and they essentially lied to the Canadian people,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it is “frustrating to have to be learning about what has been happening in the Prime Minister’s Office through a very serious police investigation.”
The prime minister’s communications director Andrew MacDougall repeated Friday that Harper did not know about Wright’s payment to Duffy until CTV reported on it in mid-May. When asked about the role played by the three senior advisers, MacDougall would only say that, “Nigel Wright took sole responsibility for what happened.”
Asked if Harper’s legal adviser had an obligation to tell the prime minister, MacDougall would only say: “No comment.”
The opposition says the prime minister’s legal counsel should have spoken up about the deal, and say his advisers should also have questioned why Duffy was making improper expense claims and why the debt was being paid.
“Someone in that office should have stood up and said, ‘this is wrong,’” Angus said. “It should have been the legal counsel.”
Rob Walsh, a former House of Commons law clerk, said he believes Harper knew of the deal and misled Parliament.
“Frankly it seems implausible or irresponsible to have not known this was going on,” Walsh told CTV News.
With a report from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife