Two Conservative senators ordered Mike Duffy's audit sanitized
The order to sanitize an audit of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses came from two key Conservatives on the Senate’s internal economy committee: chair David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, CTV News has learned.
The original version of the audit report said Duffy broke the rules when he declared a Prince Edward Island cottage as his primary residence and noted that the senator refused to co-operate with independent auditors.
Last Friday, CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported that those damning notes were removed from the public version of the report that was tabled in the Senate.
When asked if she helped sanitize the Duffy report, Stewart Olsen said: “I object to the word ‘sanitized.’ I moved the motion to adopt the report.”
Stewart Olsen is one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most loyal advisers, dating back to his days in the Canadian Alliance Party. She served as his chief communications strategist until he appointed her to the Senate.
Last week, Fife revealed that the audit of Duffy’s expenses was whitewashed as part of a secret deal with Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Fife reported that Wright wrote a personal cheque for $90,000 to help Duffy repay improperly claimed living expenses. A confidential report later obtained by Fife showed that incriminating language was removed from the final version of Duffy’s audit report.
Harper addressed the scandal directly for the first time on Wednesday, telling reporters that he did not know about the agreement between Wright and Duffy and was not asked to sign off on it.
"I learned of this after stories appeared in the media last week speculating on the source of Mr. Duffy's repayments," Harper said in Peru, where he was on a trade mission before heading to Colombia.
"Immediately upon learning that the source was indeed my chief of staff, Nigel Wright, I immediately asked that that information be released publicly. That is what I knew,” Harper said.
"Had I obviously been consulted, more importantly, I would not have agreed. And it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright's resignation."
Wright stepped down from his post on Sunday, while Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus on Thursday.
Meanwhile,opposition MPs ramped up pressure on the government to release all documents related to the ongoing Senate expense scandal.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau raised questions Wednesday about why the language in Duffy’s report was different from that contained in the audits of two other senators’ expenses.
“It has now been a week since news broke that the prime minister’s right hand man secretly paid a sitting senator $90,000 to obstruct an audit,” Trudeau said.
“Today I want to ask a very specific question about that obstruction. We know now that the Conservatives on the Senate committee on internal economy used their majority to doctor the final report on Sen. Duffy’s expenses. Can anybody on that side of the house tell us who gave the order to whitewash the report on Sen. Duffy”
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird replied that, “It’s very clear from the committee’s report that these expenses should not have been expensed. No one in the government is disputing that fact. As I understand it, the report did in the end reflect the fact that a payment had been made.”
Duffy’s audit has since been referred back to the Senate’s internal economy committee for further review.
On Wednesday, Duffy issued a statement saying he “welcomed” the development of further review into his expense claims.
“Canadians deserve to know all of the facts,” he said. “I am confident that when they do they will conclude, as Deloitte has already concluded, that my actions regarding expenses do not merit criticism.”
Duffy said he will co-operate with the review “and all other authorities,” and will not comment again publicly until the process is complete.
In early May, the committee issued reports based on independent audits of the living expenses of Duffy, and Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau. Harb and Brazeau were ordered to repay $51,000 and $48,000 in ineligible expenses, respectively, and Government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton said their wages would be garnished to recoup the money.
Duffy’s report noted the $90,000 repayment, and LeBreton said then she considered the matter of Duffy’s audit closed.