Some PMO staff knew about Duffy-Wright deal, documents allege

Senator Mike Duffy holds up his glass during the Maritime Energy Association's annual dinner in Halifax on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013.
Senator Mike Duffy holds up his glass during the Maritime Energy Association's annual dinner in Halifax on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Devaan Ingraham/The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Several people in the Prime Minister’s Office—but not Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself—were aware of Wright’s plan to personally repay former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy’s ineligible housing expenses, according to court documents obtained by the Toronto Star.

That was what lawyers for former chief of staff Nigel Wright told the RCMP, the documents revealed.

Documents filed in Ottawa court Thursday also claim the Conservative Party was initially prepared to cover the cost of Duffy’s repayment from a party fund controlled by Conservative Sen. Irving Gerstein, when it was believed he only owed about $32,000.

But the party relented when it was discovered Duffy owed almost three times that, at $90,172, the documents say.

The documents were written by RCMP Cpl. Greg Horton in relation to the ongoing investigation into improper Senate expense claims that have captured national attention.

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According to Horton, two lawyers representing Wright met with RCMP officers on June 19. They discussed how as chief of staff, Wright dealt with “matters that could cause embarrassment” to the party.

RCMP officers were told that Duffy had expressed concern that he would be unable to produce the funds himself.

When the total amount owed turned out to be roughly three times that, the Tories rescinded their offer – at which point Wright stepped in.

According to The Star, Horton wrote that “Wright then offered to cover the cost for Duffy, believing it was the proper ethical decision that taxpayers not be out that amount of money.”

The document names Gerstein, David van Hemmen, Wright’s executive assistant, Chris Woodcock, director of issues management in the PMO and Benjamin Perron, a lawyer who used to work in the PMO, as being aware of the deal.

The document also states that the prime minister was not aware of the arrangement, a claim echoed by Harper’s director of communications Andrew MacDougall.

“This file was handled by Nigel Wright and he has taken sole responsibility. The affidavit is clear that the Prime Minister was not aware of the payment,” MacDougall told Global News Thursday night.

NDP Ethics Critic Charlie Angus was quick to weigh in Thursday evening.

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“According to the RCMP, at least three people in Stephen Harper’s inner circle knew of the Senator’s financial problems and plans to cover it up with a secret payment,” he said in a statement.
The Prime Minister’s Office orchestrated the illegal payment to Senator Duffy, the Conservative Party was implicated and knew about the cover up. Stephen Harper is responsible for the PMO and is the Head of the Conservative Party.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said in an email the Conservative Fund did not pay or reimburse any of the ineligible expenses.

None of the allegations raised by Horton or Angus have been proven in court.

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