Watch: Criticism is growing over pension payouts for embattled senators. Shirlee Engle reports.
OTTAWA- Former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy maintains there was nothing wrong with his expenses and he is “confident” the RCMP will feel the same.
Duffy released a statement to Global News in response to a CTV report Monday that alleges the Prime Minister’s Office “railroaded” Duffy into accepting a $90,000 cheque from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
The report also said two Conservative senators helped persuade Duffy to pretend to use his own money to pay back his housing and living expenses.
“It would be inappropriate for me to comment while these issues are being examined by the RCMP,” Duffy said in an email.
“I feel confident that in the fullness of time the authorities will find – as did the independent auditors at Deloitte – that my expense claims do not merit criticism.”
It appears the embattled senator is spending his summer on Prince Edward Island – the province he represents. When a Global News reporter approached his Cavendish cottage Tuesday, a woman closed the interior door firmly.
A May audit into Duffy’s housing expenses found he spent 30 per cent of the days examined in the audit on PEI, but auditors also said rules surrounding primary residences are unclear. Senators are entitled to claim up to $22,000 a year in compensation for maintaining a secondary home in the capital.
Duffy also claimed per diems when he was in Florida and while campaigning for the Conservatives in 2011, but has said it was a paperwork error.
Meanwhile, Conservative senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, who sit on the Senate steering committee overseeing improper expenses claims, deny they helped persuade Duffy to pretend to pay the improper expenses with his own money.
“The CTV News report is false. At no time did we have knowledge of Mr. Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy before it was reported publicly,” Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen said in a statement Tuesday.
“Anyone who suggests that we were aware of Mr. Wright’s payment to Senator Duffy before it was reported publicly is lying.
“Our long standing position is that Senator Duffy should have immediately repaid all ineligible expenses to taxpayers.”
The CTV News report paraphrased emails allegedly from an anonymous source. They said Tkachuk allegedly told Duffy that if he went along with Wright’s offer, the Senate would go easy on the audit of his living expenses and drop questions about whether he was actually a resident of P.E.I.
Global News has not seen the emails and cannot verify their contents.
Wright’s lawyers, quoted in RCMP court documents, said he only discussed the payment with three other people inside Harper’s office.
One of Wright’s lawyers, Peter Mantas, told Global News he has no further instructions to make any statements on the new allegations.
The news comes as the Senate continues to be embroiled in an expense scandal threatening the legitimacy of the upper chamber.
Along with Duffy, former Conservative senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, as well as former Liberal senator Mac Harb, are under investigation by the RCMP in relation to their housing or travel expenses.
On Monday, Harb resigned from the Senate, saying his dispute with the Senate internal economy committee has “made working effectively in the Senate unrealistic.”
He also repaid more than $231,000 in expenses and dropped a legal case against the Senate, even while maintaining the Senate treated him unfairly.
It’s not the first time that Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen have been accused of helping to cover up or whitewash the improper expenses claimed by Duffy and Wallin.
A report into Duffy’s expenses was stripped of its most pointed language by the Tory majority on the internal economy committee, while nearly identical reports into senators Brazeau and Harb included that language. The senators explained it was because Brazeau and Harb had not yet repaid funds owing.
Tkachuk also advised Duffy that independent auditors had discovered he had been in Florida while claiming to be on Senate business. He also wrote to Duffy on behalf of the committee counselling against meeting the auditors, saying that would only delay the process.
And Tkachuk advised Wallin that when she dealt with auditors, she should omit any information from her calendar that was not relevant to the claims under scrutiny. That discussion also occurred before auditors had finished their work.
In an email, Harper’s spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, said the prime minister’s preference is to reform the Senate, and the government’s proposals are currently before the Supreme Court of Canada for consideration.
“ If the Senate can’t be reformed it should be abolished,” he said.
– With files from The Canadian Press and Jacques Bourbeau