Timeline: Key dates in the evolution of the Senate expense-claim controversy
TORONTO – A central figure in the Senate expense spending scandal will have his emails turned over to police.
The federal government says it is handing over a recently discovered cache of emails belonging to Benjamin Perrin, former counsel for the PMO.
Perrin’s name appears repeatedly in RCMP documents containing explosive allegations about a scheme to repay Sen. Mike Duffy’s disallowed housing expenses and whitewash a Senate report into the controversy.
Here’s a look at key dates in the evolution of the Senate expense-claim controversy.
June 13, 2012: Auditor General Michael Ferguson releases a study of Senate expense claims; in some cases Senate administration didn’t have the right documents to support claims of travel and living expenses.
Nov. 21, 2012: Senate committee is asked to examine housing allowance for Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau, who lists a home in Maniwaki, Que., as his primary residence despite appearing to live full-time within a 100 kilometre radius of Ottawa.
Dec. 3, 2012: Similar questions are raised about Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who claims a primary residence in P.E.I. despite being a long-time Ottawa resident.
READ MORE: Senate in ‘crisis’ says former PC senator
Dec. 6, 2012: The Senate widens its audit of housing expenses to include Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who claims a home near Pembroke, Ont., as his primary residence. The Senate begins examining residence claims of all senators, who are constitutionally bound to live in the provinces they represent.
Feb. 5, 2013: Reports emerge that Duffy applied for a P.E.I. health card in December 2012 and that he does not receive a resident tax credit for his home on the island.
Feb. 8, 2013: Senate hires an external auditing firm to review Brazeau, Duffy and Harb’s claims.
Feb. 22, 2013: Claiming confusion with the rules, Duffy pledges to pay back claimed housing expenses. “My wife and I discussed it and we decided that in order to turn the page to put all of this behind us, we are going to voluntarily pay back my living expenses related to the house we have in Ottawa.”
Feb. 27, 2013: Prime Minister Stephen Harper says all senators meet the requirement that they live in the area they were appointed to represent.
Feb. 28, 2013: Senate audit fails to turn up any questionable housing allowance claims beyond those of Brazeau, Harb and Duffy.
Apr. 19, 2013: Duffy confirms he has repaid more than $90,000 in Senate housing expenses. “I have always said that I am a man of my word. In keeping with the commitment I made to Canadians, I can confirm that I repaid these expenses in March 2013.”
May 9, 2013: The Senate releases a report into housing claims, along with a Deloitte audit. Deloitte says the three senators live in the Ottawa area, but that the rules and guidelines are unclear, making it difficult to say categorically that anyone broke the rules. Harb and Brazeau are ordered to repay $51,000 and $48,000, respectively. Harb says he will fight the decision.
VIDEO: Senate leader on audits (May 9)
May 10, 2013: Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan on Duffy: “He showed the kind of leadership that we would like to see from Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who instead is taking up arms against the Senate, saying that he should not have to pay back inappropriate funds.”
May 12, 2013: RCMP says it will examine Senate expense claims.
May 14, 2013: Brazeau says he also broke no rules and is exploring all options to overturn an order to pay the money back.
May 15, 2013: The Prime Minister’s Office confirms that Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, personally footed the bill for Duffy’s housing expenses because Duffy couldn’t make a timely payment.
May 16, 2013: Duffy resigns from the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent.
VIDEO: Duffy resigns from caucus
May 17, 2013: A Senate committee is going to take another look at the expense claims of Duffy.
The committee’s move is being prompted by reports Duffy campaigned for the Conservatives during the April 2011 election while saying he was on Senate business.
Also on this day, Wallin, whose expenses are also under the microscope, leaves the Tory caucus.
May 19, 2013: Wright resigns from his position as Harper’s chief of staff.
VIDEO: Nigel Wright quits (May 19)
May 21, 2013: Harper says politicians who seek to benefit personally from office should leave his caucus.
Speaking to his MPs and senators in the wake of the Senate expense scandal, Harper pledges to tighten the rules in the upper chamber.
May 22, 2013: The Senate returns to business as usual despite the spending scandal.
Harper says he did not know about – nor was he asked to sign off on – the arrangement that saw Wright cut a personal cheque for $90,000 to Duffy.
Harper also says he would not have allowed Wright to give the money to Duffy had he known about it.
In a statement, Duffy addresses the issue that the Senate referred his expenses to the Senate Board of Internal Economy.
“I welcome this development,” he said. “Canadians deserve to know all of the facts. I am confident that when they do they will conclude, as Deloitte has already concluded, that my actions regarding expenses do not merit criticism.”
“I intend to co-operate fully with the Board and with all other authorities and will have no further public comments until those processes are complete.”
The source, a senior member of the Senate, says the report ended up dropping “tough language” against Duffy.
Stewart-Olsen, who was once press secretary for Harper, declines to comment on what happened behind closed doors but told Global News the following:
“Any views, interpretations, or misrepresentations of what went on during an in-camera meeting are purely speculative.”
May 26, 2013: In the wake of the Senate expense spending scandal, Harper and the Conservatives are forced to look into one of their campaign promises. Watch the video below.
May 28, 2013: Harper faces some tough questions from opposition leaders during Question Period. This is Harper’s first appearance in the House of Commons since Wright resigned.
Also on this day, Senate officials confirm they have found a troubling pattern of Duffy claiming Ottawa living expenses while travelling elsewhere, including several days in 2011 when he was campaigning across the country for the Conservatives.
May 29, 2013: Harper is in the hot seat for the second consecutive day, facing an opposition inquisition about his office’s involvement in the scandal swirling around Duffy’s inappropriate expense claims.
Harper continues to avoid answering some of the most crucial questions, including why the Conservative government initially went to such lengths to protect Duffy, given an emerging portrait of repeated expense irregularities.
Harper responds to 42 direct questions on the Senate expense scandal over two days in the House this week, but some questions remain.
June 3, 2013: LeBreton says she will ask the auditor general to look into all of the expenses of the upper chamber – a move that would put the entire Senate under scrutiny.
June 4, 2013: Senate ethics officer Lyse Ricard suspends her investigation into Wright’s $90,000 payment to Duffy because the upper chamber has referred the matter to the RCMP.
Also June 4, the New Democrats table a motion in the Commons that would essentially starve the Senate to death, calling for Senate funding to be cut off starting July 1.
VIDEO: Conservative Senate books (June 4)
After months of damaging headlines, the federal Conservatives say they want to open the books to the auditor-general, for a comprehensive review of every dollar senators have spent. Jacques Bourbeau reports.
June 5, 2013: Members of the Upper Chamber are set to debate a Conservative motion calling on the auditor-general to go over the Senate’s expenses.
June 13, 2013: Brazeau and Harb are asked to repay tens of thousands of dollars in living expenses within 30 days.
It’s revealed that an external audit into Wallin’s questioned travel expenses will not be completed until the end of July.
Also on this day, ethics commissioner Mary Dawson suspends her investigation into former chief of staff Wright.
According to her office, Dawson is dropping the investigation under the Conflict of Interest Act into Wright’s “involvement in the repayment of a Senator’s expenses.” It was recently revealed Wright cut Duffy a personal $90,000 cheque to help pay off his ineligible living expenses.
RCMP say they are formally investigating Wright.
June 14, 2013: A new poll suggests Canadians overwhelmingly believe MPs and senators are cheating on their taxpayer-funded expense claims.
June 18, 2013: Senate hires two speakers to help denizens of the maligned upper chamber “feel better about themselves.”
July 17, 2013: The Prime Minister’s Office denies it is withholding an email from the RCMP concerning Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Duffy.
Aug. 7, 2013: An Ottawa businessman’s $55,000 loan to Harb raises fresh questions in the Senate ethics scandal.
Aug. 8, 2013: Harb insists he did nothing wrong when he borrowed money from an Ottawa businessman who deals with the federal government.
Aug. 12, 2013: The Senate’s secretive board of internal economy goes behind closed doors to review a report on expense claims made by Wallin.
Aug. 13, 2013: A Senate committee orders Wallin to pay back money she received for questionable expense claims plus interest.
The chamber’s board of internal economy has also restricted Wallin’s ability to travel at taxpayer expense, and has referred an audit report on her expenses to the RCMP.
Oct. 9, 2013: It’s revealed that Harper’s former chief of staff had a binder full of details on Duffy’s official and personal activities, but appears not to have provided it to auditors reviewing Duffy’s expenses nor to police when they first opened an investigation.
The existence of the binder of calendars, chronicling Duffy’s life over four years, is revealed in RCMP documents filed in court and raises questions about how much the PMO knew about Duffy’s movements. Watch Jacques Bourbeau’s report below:
Also on Oct. 9, two senators speaking only on background tell Global News several members of the upper chamber were worried about Brazeau’s behaviour, urging him to seek help for “substance issues.” One offered to book him into a private treatment facility, sources say.
Oct. 21, 2013: Duffy’s lawyer says the Prime Minister’s Office arranged to pay off his client’s disallowed housing expense claims as part of an effort to hide a political embarrassment.
Oct. 22, 2013: Duffy claims Harper ordered him to repay inappropriately claimed housing allowances during a three-way meeting in February with Harper and Wright.
It was just one part of the tale of “monstrous conspiracy” he says was orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Oct. 23, 2013: Wallin attacks the Conservative government and her colleagues in the Senate while defending herself against the threat of suspension, accusing Olsen and LeBreton of being driven to attack her by their resentment. Watch Mike Le Couteur’s report below:
Olsen, a longtime Harper confidante, steps down from the Senate subcommittee that sat in judgment on colleagues embroiled in the expense scandal. She tells some senators she needs a break from her hectic schedule.
Also Oct. 23, the RCMP requests Harb’s banking information, alleging Harb committed breach of trust and fraud by filing “inappropriate expense claims.”
Oct. 25, 2013: Brazeau tells his colleagues that Senate leader Claude Carignan offered him a “backroom deal,” though Carignan says he was merely trying to help him in confidence.
“The backroom deal was, if I stood in this chamber, apologized to Canadians and took responsibility for my actions, my punishment would be less severe than the motion,” says Brazeau.
Oct. 28, 2013: Harper says his chief of staff was “dismissed” earlier this year after writing a $90,000 cheque to pay back Duffy’s inappropriate expenses, a comment that contradicts his May statement that Wright resigned over the payment.
Also Oct. 28, Duffy says in addition to receiving $90,000, Wright also arranged for the Tory party lawyer to pay $13,500 of his legal fees.
Nov. 1, 2013: RCMP release court documents alleging Wallin committed fraud and breach of trust by filing fraudulent expense claims, and request several versions of Wallin’s electronic Senate calendar.
Nov. 2, 2013: The Prime Minister’s Office says the Conservative party paid Duffy’s legal fees on the assurance they were related to the audit of his expenses.
“At the request of Nigel Wright, the fund did agree to pay legal fees limited to a maximum of $12,000 plus HST, because at the time Senator Duffy was a member of the Conservative caucus and as you know the funds sometimes assist caucus members with their legal expenses as do other parties,” says Senator Irving Gerstein.
Nov. 5, 2013: Wallin, Duffy and Brazeau are all suspended from the Senate, when an overwhelming majority of their colleagues vote to leave them jobless and without pay. Watch below as Wallin and Brazeau react to their suspension:
Nov. 11, 2013: Brazeau will not have to reimburse the Senate $48,745 during his two-year suspension from the institution. A Senate spokeswoman says in an email that the payments will resume once Brazeau’s suspension is over.
Nov. 20, 2013: A newly-released court document alleges the PMO influenced Conservative senators David Tkachuk, Stewart Olsen and LeBreton into changing a report critical of Duffy’s living expenses.
The document also says there was an “agreement” between Duffy’s lawyer Janice Payne and the PMO as set out by demands and conditions Duffy made through his lawyer before agreeing to pay back more than $90,000 in expenses.
Also Nov. 20, Nigel Wright issues a statement insisting he was only acting in the best interests of taxpayers and that he did nothing wrong in cutting a $90,000 cheque to Duffy.
Nov. 28, 2013: Conservative senators block a bid to have a key figure from the audit firm Deloitte testify about alleged interference into the review of Duffy‘s expenses.
Dec. 2, 2013: The federal government says it is handing over to police a recently discovered cache of emails belonging to Benjamin Perrin, former counsel for the PMO, whose name appears repeatedly in RCMP documents containing explosive allegations about a scheme to repay Duffy’s disallowed housing expenses and whitewash a Senate report into the controversy.
Jan. 29, 2014: Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau kicks 32 senators out of the Liberal caucus in what he calls the most significant, concrete step ever to reform Canada’s scandal-plagued Senate. Trudeau says he’s trying to reduce partisanship and restore the Senate’s intended role as an independent chamber of sober second thought.
If elected prime minister, Trudeau says he’d only appoint independent senators using a transparent process with public input towards nominations.
Feb. 4, 2014: The RCMP charge former Senator Harb and suspended Senator Brazeau with one count each of fraud and breach of trust in connection with housing and living expenses claimed in the ongoing Senate expenses scandal.
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