Mike Duffy says Harper told him to repay Senate expenses
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, October 22, 2013 11:51AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 22, 2013 10:48PM EDT
Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered Mike Duffy to repay $90,000 in housing expenses to appease the Conservative “base,” the embattled senator told the Upper Chamber Tuesday in an explosive speech in which he asked his colleagues not to suspend him without pay.
Duffy made the allegations during a forceful address to the Senate, which was debating motions to suspend him and his colleagues Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin over alleged “gross negligence” regarding their Senate expenses.
Duffy told of a conversation he had with Harper and his then-chief of staff Nigel Wright in February regarding the ongoing Senate expenses scandal. At the time, outside auditors were reviewing the three senators’ expenses, as well as those of now-retired senator Mac Harb.
"The prime minister wasn't interested in explanations or the truth," Duffy said.
According to Duffy, Harper told him: "'It's not about what you did, it's about the perception of what you did that's been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base' ... I was ordered by the prime minister to pay the money back, end of discussion.’"
Duffy says he made it clear that he was unable to repay the funds, and Wright offered to “write the cheque.” It is unclear if Harper was present when Wright made that offer.
Shortly after Duffy spoke, Harper’s spokesperson Jason MacDonald issued the following statement to CTV News: “Following a caucus meeting, Mr. Duffy approached the Prime Minister and raised his expenses. The Prime Minister was adamant that he should repay any inappropriate expenses. That is the only time the Prime Minister discussed Mr. Duffy's expenses with him, and he was clear that inappropriate expenses should be repaid.”
In his speech, Duffy said he was under intense pressure from the PMO to accept the deal to repay his expenses.
"The PMO piled on the pressure. Some honourable senators called me in P.E.I. One senator in particular left several particularly nasty and menacing messages: 'Do what the prime minister wants, do it for the PM and for the good of the party,’” Duffy said.
"Finally, the message from the PMO became, 'Do what we want or else.’”
Duffy says one of the threats was that the Senate’s board of internal economy, co-chaired by Sen. David Tkachuk and Sen. Carolyn Setwart Olsen, would ensure he was declared ineligible to serve as a senator from P.E.I.
Tkachuk rose in the Senate after Duffy spoke to deny the allegations.
“I had no power to make any threats to Duffy,” Tkachuk said.
“I would never participate in a conspiracy like this.”
Duffy said that in May, when the deal to repay his expenses appeared in media reports, “the PMO was back with a vengeance.”
He said Sen. Marjory LeBreton, then government leader in the Senate, called him in P.E.I. to order him to resign from the Conservative caucus “within 90 minutes, or I’d be thrown out of the caucus immediately, without a meeting, without a vote.”
He says he was also told that if he didn’t step down from caucus, he would be referred to the Senate ethics committee “with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate.”
‘”You’ve got to do this Mike, do what I’m telling you…it’s the only way to save your paycheque,’” Duffy quoted LeBreton as having said.
Duffy did not put forward documentation to back up his statements. However, he said that he followed all Senate rules, “and I’ve got a ton of documentation, including a two-page memo from Sen. LeBreton’s office about it.”
CTV News has learned that at least 13 Conservative insiders were aware of the $90,000 cheque to Duffy.
They include Chris Woodcock, Harper’s former issues manager, David van Hemmen, Wright’s executive assistant, Sen. Irving Gerstein, who is in charge of the Conservative Party fund, and Patrick Rogers, who was Harper’s point man on parliamentary affairs.
A source says the late Sen. Doug Finley and Harper’s campaign manager, Jenni Byrne, who is now deputy chief of staff, were brought into Wright’s original plan for the Conservative Party to pay Duffy’s debt.
The source says Wright apparently decided to cover Duffy’s expenses himself once Finley objected to using party funds.
Duffy concluded his speech by saying:“I wish I had the courage to say no back in February when this monstrous political scheme was first ordered. Today, you have an opportunity to stand strong and use your power to restrain the unaccountable power of the PMO. That’s what this Senate’s about, sober second thought, not taking dictation from kids in short pants down the hall.”
Duffy’s comments came as senators debated a motion put forward by Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, government leader in the Senate, to suspend Brazeau. The motions to suspend each senator were to be put forward in alphabetical order, and Brazeau’s was first.
The motions stem from an ongoing expense scandal that has hung over the upper chamber and the federal government for nearly a year. Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin were asked to repay thousands of dollars in expenses after outside audits found ineligible claims had been made. All three audits, as well as another that found ineligible claims made by Harb, were referred to the RCMP.
As the debate carried on late Tuesday afternoon, Liberal Sen. James Cowan put forward a separate motion, which called for the motions to suspend the senators to be referred to a special Senate committee. That committee, Cowan said, would hold public hearings into the moves to suspend the three senators, who would be able to appear and tell their sides of the story.
Brazeau moved a similar motion before Cowan on Tuesday. He asked that the committee report back to the Senate by December.
“It was inappropriate to pass the three motions that the government leader was proposing, which would have suspended three senators immediately,” Cowan told reporters when the Senate adjourned shortly after 6 p.m.
Of his motion, Cowan said: “What we’ve just heard from Senators Brazeau and Duffy simply confirms to me that this is the right way to go.”
The Senate is to re-convene at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Mobbed by reporters
Wallin, Brazeau and Duffy were mobbed by reporters early Tuesday afternoon when they arrived to attend question period in the Senate.
The trio, all former Conservative senators who now sit as independents, sat together in the chamber and chatted among themselves before Carignan introduced his first motion.
In outlining his reasons for moving to suspend the senators, Carignan said the trio broke Senate rules when they were found by outside auditors to have made ineligible expense claims. He said they acknowledged this fact by agreeing to repay the ineligible claims.
Carignan said the motions do not propose that the senators committed any criminal acts.
“Carignan argues that his motion is purely disciplinary, not reflecting criminal wrongdoing,” CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson tweeted as she watched the Senate proceedings.
Carignan said the Senate must take disciplinary action “to preserve the dignity of this institution.” He said he is confident that the Senate has the power to suspend senators without pay.
Earlier Tuesday, Carignan told reporters that Conservative senators will be free to vote their consciences, although he correctly predicted that a vote was unlikely to occur on Tuesday.
However, both the Liberal and Conservatives caucuses met late Tuesday morning, and some senators made their intentions to vote against the motions very clear as they headed into the meetings.
Liberal Sen. Jim Munson told reporters that he believes “we should still have a sense of fairness in this country.”
“I believe in due diligence and I believe in due process. I will be voting against this motion,” Munson said.
Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal said he will vote against the motion to suspend Wallin, which he called “unfair.”
“We don't bring people into court for sentencing before we've actually had a discussion about whether they are guilty of anything or what it is they might be guilty of," Segal said.
"This motion is a sentencing motion. ... Something is, in my view, out of order."
Sen. Romeo Dallaire, a retired Canadian Forces lieutenant-general, said: "It's not a process that I'm used to from where I come from.”
"I want to see people go through proper process, no matter what the institution, and certainly no matter what the politics are.”
Brazeau had been suspended from the Senate with pay earlier this year after he was charged with sexual assault. However, that suspension was lifted when Parliament was prorogued.
He was due to appear in court earlier this month related to those charges. However, those proceedings were put over until February due to unspecified health problems.
Duffy appeared in the Senate despite taking a leave of absence for medical reasons just last week. In a letter sent to the Senate speaker, Duffy said he experienced chest pains over the summer and spent more than two days in hospital. He said he was ordered by his doctor to remain off work until he receives medical clearance to return.
On Monday, Duffy’s lawyer held a news conference on Parliament Hill in which he alleged that the Prime Minister’s Office pressured Duffy to repay the $90,000 in housing expenses and fed him talking points to make a politically inconvenient story go away.
During an almost hour-long press conference in Ottawa, Donald Bayne told reporters that both Senate leadership and the PMO had cleared Duffy’s housing claims for his home in Prince Edward Island.
Bayne read from a memorandum he said came from LeBreton in 2009 that told Duffy he could claim his Prince Edward Island residence for the Senate housing allowance because the guidelines don’t cover issues such as amount of time spent at the home being claimed.
Bayne said that last February, as scrutiny over senators’ living and travel expenses grew, the PMO began orchestrating a campaign to get Duffy’s expenses out of the headlines, Bayne said. That included help Wright.
On Tuesday, when asked whether she sent Duffy such a memorandum, LeBreton replied: “Absolutely not.”
Nigel Wright’s lawyer, Peter Mantas, also issued a statement to CTV News about Bayne’s comments, saying: “Mr. Wright has no comment on Senator Duffy’s characterization of events.”
During question period in the House of Commons Tuesday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau repeatedly asked if Harper is willing to take responsibility for the Wright-Duffy affair.
Harper repeated his oft-stated claim that Wright acted alone and has taken full responsibility for his actions.
“It's unacceptable and those individuals who have been engaged in this particular matter have been dealt with and continue to be dealt with,” Harper told question period Tuesday.
“We don't assure Canadians that things will be perfect, but we do assure Canadians that when anything goes wrong, people will be held accountable. The issue of expense accounts is not acceptable, and will be dealt with appropriately.”