Mulcair says new Senate revelations show PMO has 'lots to hide'
The opposition asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday if he wants “to change anything” about what he has said he knew of in connection to the deal to get Sen. Mike Duffy to repay his ineligible expense claims, after new court documents shed more light on the ongoing expenses scandal.
On Wednesday it was revealed that Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright is under criminal investigation after cutting a $90,000 cheque to Duffy to cover ineligible expenses claimed by the former Tory senator.
Documents filed in an Ottawa court show that the PMO urged senators to whitewash a Senate report on Duffy's expense claims after Wright had agreed to reimburse the $90,000 that the senator was ordered to repay.
When news of Wright’s cheque first emerged in media reports in May, Harper maintained that Wright "acted alone" in his decision to make the payment to Duffy.
On Wednesday, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair stood up in question period and asked a simple first question: “Does the prime minister want to change anything regarding the testimony he has given” about the Senate scandal?
The prime minister maintained his earlier position that he learned of the Wright-Duffy deal on May 15, at which time “we made that matter public. We’ve taken appropriate action against Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy, who are now, as the RCMP confirm, are under investigation.”
Mulcair quoted from a May 14 email Wright sent to then-PMO spokesperson Andrew MacDougall that Harper “knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy when I was getting him to agree to repay the expenses.” Mulcair asked of Harper: “Is that true?”
Harper quoted from the RCMP documents in his reply, saying that Wright told the RCMP he had told the prime minister only that Duffy had agreed to repay the money and not about his “personal decision to repay the money himself. When I learned of that, I took the appropriate action.”
Mulcair also asked about an email Wright wrote on Feb. 22, in which he 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.’ What did the prime minister approve during that hour?”
Harper replied by quoting Wright from the documents, saying the prime minister was aware that Duffy had agreed to repay the money.
“Let me tell you what the conclusion of the RCMP on this,” Harper went on. “After months of interviews and review of documents, the investigator says he is not aware of any evidence that the prime minister was involved in the repayment or reimbursement of money to Sen. Duffy or his lawyer. The RCMP could not be clearer on that.”
When asked specifically what “good to go” meant, Harper said it meant “good to go with Mr. Duffy repaying his own expenses.”
Before question period began, Mulcair told reporters that the newly-released court documents show that plenty of questions remain over the extent of the Prime Minister's Office's involvement in the affair.
"They're being coached, they're being prudent, but they're also showing they have a lot to hide," Mulcair told reporters in Ottawa. "Who else was involved, who else was aware? Those are going to be questions as the criminal investigations move forward."
CTV News recently reported that at least 13 Conservative insiders were aware of the $90,000 cheque.
Harper later said Wright told “very few people” about the deal.
The RCMP documents suggest that Wright told the RCMP three others in the PMO were aware that he personally provided the money to repay Duffy's expenses: Wright's assistant David van Hemmen, Harper's legal advisor Benjamin Perrin, and Chris Woodcock, the PMO’s director of issues management.
Tory Sen. Irving Gerstein also knew about the deal, according to the RCMP affidavit.
"In June he said no one else was aware of it, now we know a lot of other people were aware of it," Mulcair said. "A lot of the prime minister's versions can't be true because he's saying one thing and it's opposite on succeeding days."
The documents indicate Wright told RCMP investigators that Harper was unaware of his decision to personally pay back Duffy's ineligible expense claims.
However, Mulcair said the prime minister is responsible for what happens in his office.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau echoed the same sentiment on Wednesday and once again urged the prime minister to testify about his knowledge of the scandal under oath.
"Ultimately there is one person responsible for every single person involved in this affair," he told reporters in Ottawa.
He said Harper must assume responsibility for the ordeal, "not as leader of the Conservative party trying to protect his party, but as prime minister for all Canadians to deal with them openly with integrity, and to tell the full truth."
Trudeau repeated his calls for Harper to testify under oath during Wednesday’s question period. Harper responded that the RCMP documents confirm “two things. First, that Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy are under investigation and that the prime minister has only said the truth.”