By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 0 Comments
Furious David Christopherson stood and invoked original sin.
“Mr. Speaker, on February 17, the Prime Minister answered in the House that: ‘All senators conform to the residency requirements,’ ” the NDP deputy recalled.
Mr. Christopherson would seem to have the date wrong, but otherwise the Prime Minister does seem to have said this.
“The Senate audit report contradicted this and concluded that Senator Duffy’s primary residence was Ottawa not P.E.I. Yet when the final report was tabled, this key paragraph had been erased,” the New Democrat now charged. “Last night, we learned that the Prime Minister’s former communications director, now a senator, helped whitewash the Duffy report. Can the government tell us whether anyone in the PMO was aware that this report contradicted their Prime Minister?”
In an alternate universe, of course, Mike Duffy was never appointed to the Senate to represent Prince Edward Island. In a third, and even better, universe, there was never even a Senate to which to appoint him.
It was here James Moore’s duty to stand and lead the government response, John Baird apparently elsewhere recovering from having to stand 23 times yesterday.
“Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the Senate report does reflect the findings of the auditor, the auditor, by the way, that both the opposition and the government agreed should be brought in, an independent, outside auditor,” Mr. Moore offered with the first of 22 responses for him this afternoon. “The report reflected that finding. I understand, of course, that new questions have been raised. That is why the Senate is looking at the matter again, and that is also why the Ethics Commissioner is looking into this, as is the Office of the Senate Ethics Commission.”
And to them you can apparently add the RCMP.
“These questions are being raised,” Mr. Moore continued. “They are being put forward. They will be answered.”
It is nice to think that they might, because as of now there are almost only questions without answers. And while new questions do indeed continue to be raised about this and that and who did or did not do whatever however, the question that has been with us since nine days ago when CTV reported the existence of some kind of arrangement between Mr. Duffy and Nigel Wright remains primary.
What the hell happened here? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 3:37 PM - 0 Comments
The RCMP has asked the Senate for documents related to the expenses of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. Justin Trudeau has formally requested, through the House, documents from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the payment of Nigel Wright to Mr. Duffy. The CBC has obtained correspondence between Mr. Duffy and Conservative Senator David Tkachuk and the CBC delves further into Mr. Duffy’s expense claims during the last election.
Meanwhile, Postmedia talks to Mr. Tkachuk and fellow senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen.
Tkachuk, chairman of the Senate’s internal economy committee, told Postmedia News Harper’s office got in touch with him asking about the audit process — and wondering when the final report from auditors would be made public. “This was a political problem that was becoming worse because it was spinning out of control,” Tkachuk said from his home in Saskatchewan where he is recovering from surgery. “They never asked me to do anything wrong,” he said. Later, he clarified this, saying, “I was never directed to do anything.”
My interview with Senator Tkachuk is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 12:47 PM - 0 Comments
Conservative Senator David Tkachuk is the chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee and a member of that committee’s steering committee—the two committees involved in the investigation of Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses. Senator Tkachuk spoke with Maclean’s this morning about the deliberations of those committees, the report on Senator Duffy’s expenses and Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff. The following transcript has been abridged and slightly edited for clarity.
Q: First of all, in terms of the committee report, there’s obviously this controversy over certain sections that seem to have been taken out of an original draft to the report that we see now. Can you explain why those portions were taken out?
A: The original draft was a first draft that would have been written by the clerk of the committee for us after we had a long discussion about what the audit had said. The audit itself, we disagreed with parts of the audit, some major parts of the audit. In the case of Duffy, the audit was recommending that he pay back $1,200, that he said he was confused. Our view was that he shouldn’t have been and that he should not have invoiced for that money and that we should keep what he had already given us. There were some changes in the report, of course. It’s our report. We wrote the report. So steering committee writes the report, we then took the report to internal, there was an amendment made in internal and internal then presented the report into the Senate chamber for debate.
Q: What about though the impression that the portions that were taken out of that report made it less hard on Senator Duffy?
A: We didn’t try to make it less hard on him. What we tried to do was … what we did is we acknowledged the fact, in a way, that he had paid back the money and he said he might have been mistaken. We had hoped for an apology, but that wasn’t quite there, but he did pay back the money. And we thought that it was a little bit different and that we should be careful with our language. His money was paid back and so we were quite happy with that.
Q: So in a way was he given a bit of a break in that regard because he’d paid the money back?
A: Let’s put in this way: there were two recommendations in that report. The first one was that we keep the money. The second one was that we watch, that we put a sort of a cover over his expenses over the next year and both those were unanimously accepted by steering before it was presented to internal economy. So I don’t think he was given a break. He was given no break whatsoever actually. He suffered the same fate as everybody else. Was it as harshly written as the other two? No. But he had already said he was mistaken and he had paid back the money, so we didn’t think we should harshly write the report as the other two.
Q: There’s an incident, I believe after the report gets tabled, where Senator Furey stands up in the Senate and says there’s a dissent, or a Liberal dissent, to this report, or at least this is my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong. So was there some disagreement within the committee over how to handle the report on Senator Duffy?
A: First of all, what George said, actually he said this when I presented the reports and he moved a point of order, which was totally erroneous. His point of order was that because I was presenting the report that it was presumed to be unanimous, which isn’t true. No report is presumed to be unanimous, it’s just a report of the committee. So what he was trying to say is that it wasn’t unanimous. Well, so what? Very few reports are unanimous. A lot of reports aren’t unanimous. But there’s still reports of the committee because the majority rules. So in the case of the steering committee, there were certain amendments made that he agreed with and certain others that he did not. Then when we went to internal economy, there was an amendment made and it was passed.
Q: There’s also this question of a letter from Senator Duffy that refers to an informal conversation with you. That has been interpreted as a suggestion that you tipped him off to the problem. Can you explain that conversation that he is referring to?
A: What happened was that the auditors, what they do is they give you, to the audit committee, they did what they a call a presentation of facts, to make sure they got the facts correct. And then we have some debate, we have some discussion, with the auditors about what they’re trying to achieve and how long it’s going to take them and all this stuff. So when they came they said we have a telephone call that was from Florida and there was a billing made for a per diem that day. So I sort of put that in my noggin’ and thought to myself, oh, that’s interesting, I wonder how many other days there would have been. So I went to see Mike and I said, Mike, you have a problem. I said, you’ve got a phone call made from Florida and you were charging a per diem. And he said, gee, that was during my holidays. I said, well, how many days were there? And he looked at me and I said, well, you’d better straighten this out and you’d better get yourself organized and he said, well, what should I do? I said, I think you should write a letter to the auditors. He said, well, can I write it to you? And I said, I don’t care who you write it to, but it should go to the auditors. Which is exactly what he did. So I tipped him off about nothing. I actually helped the audit find out that he had, I think, 12 days billed during that time.
Q: So do you think there was anything inappropriate about contacting him at that point?
A: No. This is not a police investigation. This is an audit. I’m the chairman of the audit committee. I want the truth. That’s all I was interested in and it’s my job to seek the truth. I’m also chair of internal economy and when I hear something like this I have to take some action too. I mean, what am I going to do, close my eyes to it?
Q: The question of the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. There’s some suggestion that that agreement had some bearing on the proceedings of your committee. Did you ever feel any pressure, or was it ever suggested to you, by Nigel Wright, that you should in any way go easy on Senator Duffy or treat him any differently in any way?
A: First of all, I have no idea if there was an agreement between him and Mike Duffy. Only Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright can tell you that. So at the time, I wouldn’t have known anything. Don’t forget, he paid the money back in March. This report wasn’t written until recently and we didn’t receive the audit… the audit continued on after he paid the money back. There was no indication that and no expectation that we would treat him any differently than the way he was treated. The audit was going on, he paid back the money, we said thank you very much, that was it.
Q: Just to be specific, did you ever have any conversation with Nigel Wright where it was suggested to you that…
A: That in return for something I should do something?
Q: … no, more specifically, regardless of whether there was an agreement, was it ever suggested to you that you should treat him differently? Did Nigel ever suggest that you should go easy on Mike Duffy?
A: No. I mean, you’ve got to remember I would have been having a number of discussions with Nigel, I had a few of them. He didn’t tell me to do anything, really. We discussed Mike and the situation that he was in. I mean, the Prime Minister’s Office was very concerned about this. They don’t like this scandal going on. It was hurting us politically. And I didn’t like it going on, but he never said, he never told me to whitewash anything or to let him off the hook or anything like that. I’m responsible for what goes in that report. The internal economy committee is responsible for what goes in that report and the steering committee is responsible for what goes in that report. But I get advice from the media, I get advice from my own leader, I got advice from Senator Cowan. Matter of fact, Senator Cowan wrote me a letter along with Marj LeBreton about what one of the major recommendations should be, which was to collect the money, was to have the money paid back. And we listened to them. That was the major part of the report and the major recommendation. Is that interference? I don’t think so.
Q: But again, just to clarify, was there pressure from anyone within the party or the Prime Minister’s Office or the government to go easy on Senator Duffy?
A: No, I never felt that I should make any excuse for Mike Duffy’s behaviour.
Q: It also seems to be the case that Senator Duffy stopped cooperating with the auditors after he made the payment. Did that bother you then? Does it bother you now?
A: He never cooperated with them before either.
A: He didn’t cooperate with them at all.
Q: Does that bother you?
A: No. It’s his right to do that. He doesn’t have to talk to them. We don’t live in a police state.
Q: Would it bother you if his not cooperating in some way linked to his agreement with Nigel Wright?
A: You know what I think? He paid the money. He said, that’s it. Here’s the money, I don’t owe any money, I’ve paid it back for four years. I don’t know what he was thinking, you’d have to talk to Mike about that. I don’t know what he was thinking, but that didn’t bother me too much at all. I would have liked him to cooperate, but he didn’t. Although when I did ask him to send a letter, he did cooperate. I said he was in trouble.
Q: Does it bother you at all now that the entire investigation of Senator Duffy is now subject to suspicion and allegation? Are you worried about the credibility of the investigation?
A: This has not been a healthy process. Let’s put it this way. I’d hate to have an audit done on me, I’d hate to have an audit done on any senator or any member of Parliament if this is the way politicians are going to treat it. What we did is we had an audit. It was an independent process. And then after the independent process is concerned, we had a report. The report was tabled in the Senate. Everything was done in public. Everything was done with the opposition present. The opposition presented no minority report. The opposition could have complained about it at the beginning. George Furey did not complain about it after the steering committee. They could have made amendments in the internal economy committee, they never made one. Not one. So this process then went into the Senate and somehow the process is wrong? I don’t see how the process is wrong. And you know what? The media has done more to assist it, in kind of a weird way, then anybody because there was that article, somebody did a lot of research … and that’s why the report is returned back because he may have invoiced during the election campaign, when he wasn’t even in Ottawa. Well, that’s not very good. So I’m kind of glad we got that information and now it’s coming back to internal [economy] to be discussed. But the process itself, we’ve got to deal with that and how we’re going to do this in the future because you can’t have kind of a Wild West, hang ‘em high mentality. There has to be due process. People have to be treated fairly. The emails that I get are beyond belief. The hatred that’s shown is beyond belief. And for what? For what purpose? None that I can think of.
Q: Emails from who, do you mean?
A: From ordinary citizens.
Q: Senator Cowan has suggested, or requested I guess, that the internal economy committee proceedings now, in terms of Senator Duffy, be held in public? Do you have any response to that?
A: You know what, Senator Cowan is a publicity-seeking hound. He has six members, he has the deputy chair. They can make that argument in internal economy to have the meeting public. He’s writing this to make himself look like the big guy. And then he’s talking about other people interfering in the process? There’s a guy who’s interfering in the process. If anybody’s done more damage to this process, it’s him.
Q: To come back to the question of Mr. Wright. Do you have any reason to believe that any other Conservative senators on that committee, either the steering committee or the main internal economy committee, were at all influenced by him or pressured by anyone else within the government to go easy on Mike Duffy?
A: I wouldn’t know about anybody else. But no one’s told me otherwise.
This portion of the interview ended there. But, at my request, we spoke again to return to a few points.
Q: Just to go back, we’ve established that the report was written a certain way because he had paid the money back. And I just want to make sure I’m using your words correctly here … You say, “He was given no break whatsoever actually. He suffered the same fate as everybody else. Was it as harshly written as the other two? No. But he had already said he was mistaken and he had paid the money back, so we didn’t think we should harshly write the report as the other two.” So the decision to not write the report as harshly as the other two, was that at all influenced by any discussion with Nigel Wright or anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office or anyone in the government?
A: No, it was influenced by the fact that he paid his money back. That’s the sort of the way Carolyn [Stewart Olsen] and I felt, that there was an opportunity here to send a message. These things sort of … they last a long time, like these reports, they’re not written in five minutes, you know what I mean? There’s so much discussion that takes place about, you know, what we should do and I’m sure that George [Furey] had discussion with his people, you know, and we had discussion with our people and we came to certain decisions and then we tried to put them in the report.
Q: But just to be as categorical as possible, the decision to not write the report as harshly as the others…
A: It didn’t come from someone else giving us an order to do this. Let’s put it that way.
Q: Or any advice to that regard?
A: Well, I got advice from all kinds of people. I’m not going to tell you who they are, but let’s put it this way: I talked to people in the PMO, I talked to media people, I talked to colleagues, I talked to my leadership, I talked to fellow senators. There’s tonnes of people that I would have sought advice [from] as to how we should proceed with this process. This was not a police investigation. There was an audit and there was a report and there were things done that were not correct, that were done wrong. And we felt these people should pay a price. And so we made the decision to have the money returned back for all the time that he had been a senator. You know, I can’t make it any clearer than that. There’s nothing nefarious about it or anything underhanded. Everything was done above board and everything was public. I mean, we didn’t do the report in a dingy room and throw it into the Senate floor, this was done with Liberals present.
Q: But the controversy now is on any suggestion of advice from the Prime Minister’s Office or Nigel Wright.
A: But whether I get advice from them doesn’t really matter, it’s whether I take it that matters. There’s the Prime Minister’s Office, these people are my colleagues and I have discussions with them from time to time. They have never asked me to do anything that I thought was wrong and I certainly did not listen to everything they said. So, you know, there’s nothing here that would be unusual for any report of any kind. It was a simple matter of, you know, we talked to people.
Q: But did Nigel Wright ever suggest to you how the report should be written?
A: Nigel Wright did not.
Q: Did anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office ever suggest to you how the report should be written?
A: Not really.
Q: What does that mean?
A: Because when I ask for advice, people will give advice. I did ask for advice, I’m not denying that. But all I’m saying is, no one gave me any orders, no one came to my room and told me what to do. I did what I thought was right and I asked for advice from as many people as I could and I made up my own mind and I believe Carolyn made up her own mind and I’m sure George made up his own mind too and I’m sure he got advice from all kinds of people. He didn’t make this up on his own either. All I’m saying is that there was no pressure to do anything. That I’m responsible for what’s in that. That’s all I can say.
I attempted at this point to close any possible loopholes, but this next question was not well-worded. At this point, I might’ve been accused of badgering the witness. But, for the record, here is part of what followed.
Q: Can you say though that any of the Prime Minister’s Office’s advice ended up impacting how that report was written?
A: Well, I don’t know, I suppose. It’s hard for me to say. It’s hard for me to say. Only because I asked for advice from many, many people, so it’s all in the report.
Q: And specifically though, the decision to not write the report as harshly, can you say whose advice that was based on?
A: That would have been my advice to myself. That was Carolyn and me deciding that that’s the way we should write the report.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 10:54 PM - 0 Comments
While the Canadian Press and the Globe compare how the Senate report on Mike Duffy was edited—the Citizen posted the original report this afternoon—Global says it was Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Stephen Harper’s former press secretary, who moved the motion at the internal economy committee to make the revisions. CTV and the CBC say Stewart Olsen and Senator David Tkachuk, the chair of the committee, were involved.
Liberal Senate leader James Cowan, meanwhile, has written to the internal economy committee to ask that its meetings on Mike Duffy be held in public.
Yesterday, the Senate referred back to your Committee your twenty-second report (Examination of Senator Duffy’s Primary and Secondary Residence Status) so that it can be reconsidered in view of recent public allegations of double-billing and other questionable living expense claims by Senator Duffy.
In view of the widespread media stories questioning whether the proceedings of the committee on the original report were conducted in an impartial and independent manner, I request that you proceed with the reconsideration of the report in public.
In order to regain the public’s trust, Canadians need to be reassured that this crisis will be dealt with fairly, impartially and comprehensively, and that can only be achieved by ensuring that all future meetings on this matter are held in public.
In other news, the Star reports that Mr. Duffy seems to have claimed Senate expenses during a week when the Senate wasn’t sitting.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 6:10 PM - 0 Comments
The afternoon was not without new clarification. Or at least an attempt at such.
Picking up where yesterday had left off, Thomas Mulcair endeavoured to sort out the precise value of John Baird’s assurance that the matter of Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy had been referred to two independent authorities.
“Mr. Speaker, yesterday afternoon, 11 times the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the Duffy affair was going to be investigated by independent authorities, independent bodies, independent officers. When my colleague, the House Leader of the Official Opposition asked him what those were, he could not give an answer,” Mr. Mulcair recounted. “Twice during the afternoon the Prime Minister’s Office said that they were referring to the Senate’s Ethics Officer. Later it corrected that to say that it is the Senate committee, the same one that whitewashed Mike Duffy the first time, that is carrying out the investigation.”
“Ahh!” sighed the New Democrats.
Along the government’s front row, Vic Toews grumbled in Mr. Mulcair’s direction about a “bribe” (seemingly a reference to the matter of Mr. Mulcair and the mayor of Laval).
“Does the minister not realize,” Mr. Mulcair asked, “that is about as credible as Paul Martin asking Jean Chrétien to investigate the sponsorship scandal?”
The New Democrats enjoyed this reference and stood to applaud their man.
Mr. Baird now stood to quote himself. “What I did say yesterday was, and I quote: ‘Furthermore, this matter has been referred to two independent bodies for review,’ which is nothing like what he just said,” Mr. Baird explained, seeming to stress the word referred.
It is not actually clear what this should clarify, although, as it turns out, it now seems the Senate Ethics Officer is indeed reviewing the matter. So there’s that. Unfortunately, there is not much else on offer. Or, rather, not much else that the government seems either willing or able to offer. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 4:28 PM - 0 Comments
Courtesy of the Canadian Press, the full transcript of the Prime Minister’s comments to reporters this afternoon about Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.
Reporter: My question is about the resignation statement of your former chief of staff, which indicated that he merely did not tell you the means by which Sen. Mike Duffy got his money and, to date, neither he nor you have denied that you did know there was a deal. My question first is, what exactly did you know about the deal? Second, what were the terms of that deal? And third, what does it say about your leadership that your senior staff could even imagine this was ethical?
Stephen Harper: Just to correct that, I think we’ve been very clear that I did not know, but let me be very specific about this. I learned of this after stories appeared in the media last week speculating on the source of Mr. Duffy’s repayments.
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.
I think what’s more important about this is that, not simply that I did not know, but that I was not consulted. I was not asked to sign off on any such thing and had I obviously been consulted or known, I would not have agreed with it.
And it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation.
My belief, I should mention, my belief, of course, prior to all this was that Mr. Duffy had repaid. When I heard that Mr. Duffy had repaid, my assumption was that Mr. Duffy had repaid from his own resources and that’s how it should have been, in my judgment.
Reporter: You’re known for running a very tight ship in government. How do you expect Canadians to believe that you knew nothing about the cheque that was written to Sen. Duffy? And what in particular do you plan to do? What actions in particular do you plan to take to address this scandal? Could there be further resignations?
Stephen Harper: Look, I think my belief here was reasonable, what, I think, anybody would have expected, that when it was said that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses, that indeed he, and not someone else, had repaid his expenses. I know Mr. Wright assisted him or did this for him, because he wanted to see the taxpayers reimbursed. That’s the right motive, but nevertheless it was obviously not correct for that decision to be made and executed without my knowledge or without public transparency.
That is why, as I say, I have accepted the resignation of my chief of staff. As you know we’ve had a couple of senators also leave our caucus. My point is on this that there is accountability when things like this happen. We’ve also put in place the various authorities and mechanisms that will further look into these matters to see if any additional action has to be taken on any particular individuals.
I can assure you that we will certainly look at our systems, see what we have to do to better manage or, better yet, prevent any of these kinds of things in the future. Obviously, I am very sorry that this has occurred. I am not only sorry, I’ve been through the range of emotions. I’m sorry, I’m frustrated, I’m extremely angry about it. But that is the reality and I think we’ve dealt with it promptly.
I’m frustrated and sorry and angry about all of this. I don’t think there’s any better way to put it. In terms of my own office, it was Mr. Wright’s money, it was his personal money that he was repaying to the taxpayers on behalf of Mr. Duffy, it was his personal decision and he did this is his capacity as chief of staff, so he is solely responsible and that is why he has resigned.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 3:52 PM - 0 Comments
A Liberal member of the Senate’s internal economy committee alleges political interference in the investigation of Mike Duffy and the Ottawa Citizen has a copy of the pre-edited report on Mr. Duffy’s expenses.
Stephen Harper says he’s “sorry” and “upset” and “extremely angry,” but, in a written statement, Mr. Duffy seems relatively at peace with things.
Yesterday, the Senate referred the issue of my expenses to the Senate Board of Internal Economy.
I welcome this development. 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 Senate’s conflict of interest committee, meanwhile, releases a statement that suggests the Senate Ethics Officer is now engaged with “matters currently of public interest.”
The Standing Committee on Conflict of Interest for Senators met last evening.
The Committee is exercising its oversight role of the process under the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators. As part of its work, the Committee met with the Senate Ethics Officer. The Committee is satisfied, at this stage, that the Senate Ethics Officer is reviewing matters currently of public interest.
The Committee will await the next steps from the Senate Ethics Officer and will act accordingly as provided by the Code.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair has just announced that the New Democrats are embarking on a cross-country campaign—”Roll up the red carpet”—to abolish the Senate.
Standing in front of the Senate chamber, Mr. Mulcair was asked whether he didn’t see the value of sober second thought.
We’re going to stop trying to find excuses for keeping a bunch of party hacks, bagmen, political operatives and defeated candidates sitting in appeal of the decisions of the duly elected mmebers of the House of Commons. That’s a game of the past. That’s a mug’s game. Where you try to find an individual in the Senate who’s not so bad. Where you try to find something that they’ve done in the past that wasn’t horrible. The real question is, in 2013, how can you possibly continue to argue to keep an institution of unelected people who have the power to reverse the decisions of duly elected members of Parliament. That’s the fundamental discussion that we’re having today.
But how to go about abolishing the Senate?
One of the things that you have to do if you actually want to make this happen is you’ve got, one, to get the public on side because once you have public support, there’s nothing more important in a democracy than having the public on side, that’s what this program is about. The other thing that you have to do is you have to talk to the provinces and territories. Because whether you’re in Newfoundland and Labrador or in Quebec or in other areas, everyone’s going to have a word to say about this. But Stephen Harper doesn’t talk to the provinces and territories, so he can’t talk seriously about reforming the Senate either. So that’s one of the things that I’m going to be doing. As I continue to travel across Canada in the coming months, every time I do I’m going to be meeting with government leaders and I’m going to be meeting with opposition leaders, we’re going to be talking about this, they’ll share their opinions as well. We want to hear from all Canadians on this. But we are convinced, from having worked on this for a long time, that the vast majority of Canadians, the quasi-totality of Canadians, realize that in a free and democratic society, having a group of people who can sit in appeal of the decisions of elected members, who have never been elected and, indeed, are more often than not defeated candidates, is a scandal that it’s about time to…
His answer trailed off there.
As I’ve written before, the argument here has to be between an elected Senate (including what would be necessary to accomplish that and all of the complications that would come with having such an upper house) and abolishing the Senate (including what would be necessary to accomplish that and whatever considerations should be made in regards to no longer having an upper house). I agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister that the status quo is not acceptable. But I believe abolishing the Senate is much more preferable to an elected Senate.
All previous coverage of Senate reform is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 9:37 AM - 0 Comments
The Senate voted last night to send the matter of Mike Duffy’s expenses back to the internal economy committee—the same committee whose original investigation of Mr. Duffy’s expenses is now being questioned in light of Nigel Wright’s cheque to Mr. Duffy.
Liberal Senate leader James Cowan also rose on a question of privilege that could, if the Speaker agrees, create a second inquiry process in the Senate.
In our case, actual words are being used and, in the present circumstances, who would argue that “odium, contempt or ridicule” do not accurately reflect what the feelings of ordinary Canadians are about the Senate today? I will not read into the record the language Canadians have been using publicly to express what they think of the Senate and of us as senators. We have all heard them, through the media and personally. We cannot ignore them.
It is critically important to re-establish the confidence of Canadians in their public institutions. The public allegation of outside interference in the proceedings of the Senate needs to be thoroughly investigated, with all parties involved being given an opportunity to explain their respective roles.
Meanwhile, as noted yesterday, the Liberals want the House ethics committee to take up a study of the matter, but Conservative MPs represent a majority on the committee and so at least some of them will have to agree for any kind of study to go forward. Of course, should the committee decline to launch an investigation, Conservatives will (or at least should) have to explain why not. That the House of Commons would not take this matter up for investigation would seem to me to be a rather gross abdication, but for now I’ll merely pose the question: is there any particular reason the House of Commons ethics committee shouldn’t be investigating this?
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 5:54 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair stood to a hearty cheer from his caucus and, when the applause had quieted, he attempted a joke.
“Mr. Speaker, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, to Peru apparently,” he quipped.
There were grumbles and complaints from the government side—it being unparliamentary to refer to the presence, or at least the lack thereof, of anyone in the House of Commons. Mr. Mulcair hadn’t quite done that here, but the Speaker was compelled to intervene here anyway and call for order.
The floor was returned to Mr. Mulcair and the NDP leader now proceeded to recap the story so far, a mix of the acknowledged, the alleged and the reported. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 5:11 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from Benjamin Perrin, former legal advisor to the Prime Minister, in regards to last night’s story from CTV.
Last night’s CTV story in relation to me, which is based on unattributed sources, is false.
I was not consulted on, and did not participate in, Nigel Wright’s decision to write a personal cheque to reimburse Senator Duffy’s expenses.
I have never communicated with the Prime Minister on this matter.
In all my work, I have been committed to making our country a better place and I hope my record of service speaks for itself.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 5:04 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from Liberal MP Scott Andrews.
“The revelations about ethical misconduct in the Prime Minister’s Office are truly outrageous to Canadians. That is why today I gave notice of motion at the House of Commons Ethics committee calling for a thorough investigation into this matter.
The Liberal Party will be calling on the Ethics committee to invite as witnesses the Prime Minister, former and current senior PMO staffers, as well as Conservative Senate leaders and Senator Mike Duffy.
It is of paramount importance that Canadians be assured of transparency and full disclosure by this government, and thus far, Mr. Harper has failed to answer Canadians’ very valid questions.
We trust we will receive the support of all parties – including Conservative MPs – in order to get to the bottom of this troubling scandal. While Mr. Harper may call it a ‘distraction’, Canadians expect real answers and the truth, and Liberals will continue to work on their behalf.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
In his letter to the elections commissioner last Friday about whether Mike Duffy had claimed Senate expenses while campaigning for the Conservatives in the last election, NDP MP Craig Scott named several other senators whose expenses might be scrutinized.
As noted, Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell told me on Friday that he claimed no expenses during the writ period. Today, Liberal Senator David Smith called me to say he had not claimed expenses during the last election and the office of Conservative Senator Nancy Greene Raine emailed me with a statement from the senator.
“I was very careful during the writ period not to claim any expenses connected with campaigning on my Senate budget.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister arrived to the stage with a slight smile, an acknowledgement perhaps of his caucus’ willingness to stand and applaud his presence at this particular moment. He quickly turned serious.
“Good morning, everyone. Colleagues, obviously the reason I’m speaking to you this morning is I want to talk about some events that have transpired recently. And I don’t think any of you are going to be very surprised to hear that I’m not happy,” he said. “I’m very upset…”
So upset that he would commit here and now to release any and all relevant documents and correspondence in the possession of his office? So upset that he would submit to a news conference today to address the allegations concerning his former top aide? So upset that he would detail precisely what he knows about the arrangement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy? So upset that he would offer any kind of explanation here now with all these cameras summoned to transmit his remarks to the nation?
No, no, not that upset. Just upset enough to feel it necessary to tell everyone that he was indeed upset. A revelation that even he conceded was not much of a surprise.
“… about some conduct we have witnessed, the conduct of some parliamentarians and the conduct of my own office.”
In fact, we have not witnessed anything except the spectacle of a government attempting to slowly explain how one of the Prime Minister’s appointees in the Senate had come to pay back some unfortunately claimed expenses and how the Prime Minister’s chief of staff had come to be involved in the return of those funds. The actual events in question occurred entirely in secret.
Now though we would witness self-congratulation paraded for all to see. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 10:03 AM - 0 Comments
Last night, via email, I asked Senator Marjory LeBreton, the government’s leader in the Senate, about the Senate’s investigation of Mike Duffy. Specifically: Do you have any reason to believe the Senate investigation and audit of Mr. Duffy’s expenses were affected by the agreement between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright?
Here is her response.
The audits tabled are those received from Deloitte. The covering reports from Internal Economy used language for Harb and Brazeau to facilitate the recovery of the money. The language was not used in the Report on Duffy because the money had been paid back. These reports were written and approved by the Internal Economy Committee and no one else.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 20, 2013 at 10:33 PM - 0 Comments
CTV reports tonight that the Prime Minister’s legal advisor was involved in drafting the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.
Sources told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that back in February, Benjamin Perrin helped draft the letter of understanding that called for Duffy to publicly declare that he would repay the money. In return, sources say, Wright would give a personal cheque to Duffy to cover the $90,000. Sources say the agreement also stipulated that a Senate investigation into expense claims would go easy on Duffy.
So will the Prime Minister’s Office now release the terms of that agreement? Apparently not.
The PMO also declined to release the letter of agreement, saying it is now in the hands of Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, who is investigating Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Duffy.
What the Prime Minister’s Office has done is invite reporters to watch the Prime Minister deliver a speech to the Conservative caucus tomorrow morning. If Mr. Harper is later going to entertain questions from reporters, the PMO has yet to say so. But perhaps the Prime Minister’s remarks could involve reading aloud the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy.
Meanwhile, the Globe has video of Mike Duffy declining to explain himself as he’s chased through the Ottawa airport.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 20, 2013 at 2:35 PM - 0 Comments
Our govt has the highest ethical standards demonstrated by 3 resignations: 2 from Senate caucus & the PM chief of staff.
It’s a clear demo of accountability folks from some other parties could emulate.
Indeed. It is by precisely that measure that the Nixon administration is widely considered to be the most ethical in American history.
How might the Harper government demonstrate even higher ethical standards this week? The Prime Minister could start tomorrow by convening a news conference, at which he could stand and face at least a dozen questions from reporters. The Prime Minister’s Office could release any and all paperwork related to the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. The government’s leadership in the Senate could also appear publicly to face questions about their knowledge of the situation.
Conservative MPs could aid the government they support by demanding that Nigel Wright appear before a parliamentary committee and inviting Mike Duffy to do likewise.
Ms. Crockatt is right, in a way. Ensuring that certain consequences follow from questionable actions is part of being accountable. But so is fully and completely explaining the events in questions and opening oneself to public scrutiny.
Update 10:36pm. Ms. Crockatt would like to explain herself.
After a deluge of sarcastic comments from Twitter users — such as, “That’s like a criminal saying he has the highest ethical standards because he went to jail” — Crockatt told the Herald that her comment has been misinterpreted. When asked to clarify what she meant, Crockatt said, “That accepting the resignations was the right thing to do.”
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 9:45 PM - 0 Comments
Conservative MP Ted Opitz attempts to sum up Nigel Wright’s resignation.
Nigel Wright is a patriot. A man with honour. If he made a mistake, it was a gentleman’s mistake. One made with the truest of intentions.
Wright gone but still not wrong? See today’s resignation statements – no acceptance of wrongdoing … Harper’s statement does nothing to condemn the $90,000 secret payment – the spin is still Wright as gallant knight … The claim is Harper knew nothing abt the Wright-Duffy secret deal, yet #PMSH has so far retroactively endorsed it by not once condemning it.
Mr. Wright’s statement explains that he’s stepping down because of the “controversy.” He regrets the “impact.” That sounds a lot like part of Mr. Duffy’s explanation for voluntarily—via Mr. Wright’s largesse—paying back his housing allowance. Mr. Duffy didn’t want to be a distraction. Mr. Duffy “filled out the forms in good faith,” but “rather than let this issue drag on” he and his wife had decided that the allowance would be repaid. Mr. Wright “intended solely to secure the repayment of funds,” which he “considered to be in the public interest,” but “in light of the controversy” he was resigning.
Mr. Duffy at least allowed that he “may have been mistaken.” And Mr. Opitz at least allows for the possibility that Mr. Wright also may have made a mistake, even if only of the gentlemanly variety.
So do Conservatives believe Mr. Wright did something wrong? Does the Prime Minister believe his chief of staff did anything wrong? And, if so, how do they think he erred? Merely in being too generous a man and too selfless a public servant?
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Two hours after Nigel Wright resigned, The West Block aired an interview with Brent Rathgeber, the noticeably independent-minded Conservative MP. It seems this mess is not going over well with Conservative supporters.
Tom Clark: Is this hurting the Conservative brand in your area?
Brent Rathgeber: Well it is to a certain extent. I think the irony of this situation to some extent is, I hear from constituents all the time; daily, weekly and individuals for the most part that are calling or e-mailing me with respect to recent stories that are coming out of the Senate are not the normal people that are critical of the government or critical of me. These are actually more people that I consider to be our supporters, that they expect public officials to hold themselves up to an exceptionally high standard of conduct and it’s those individuals … Who I mean I identify with because I’m one of them. I do advocate for respect for taxpayers and for treating public resources effectively and legally, and respectfully. So, it’s among individuals who I consider to be my supporters who seem to be the most upset as this story continues to roll out.
And then there is this from Mr. Rathgeber.
Tom Clark: You’re going to be back here in Ottawa next week when the House resumes, you’re going to have an opportunity to speak to the leaders of the party, to the prime minister. What do you want to ask Stephen Harper about this whole situation?
Brent Rathgeber: Well my biggest concern and it has been my concern for some time, even before this story broke in the last few weeks, and that’s what I see as an inadequate degree of separation between the legislative and executive branches of government. The senators in question and myself, we are parliamentarians. We are legislators and our job is to vet and ultimately vote on, yay or nay on legislation that’s before the respective houses. And most of that legislation is government sponsored and government drafted legislation. And when there’s inadequate separation I would suggest between the executive and of course the prime minister’s office is at the very apex of the executive. When there’s inadequate separation between those two institutions, it appears to me that both are compromised. I mean I don’t … as a legislator I don’t want to be beholden or indebted to individuals from the executive at any level.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 12:07 PM - 0 Comments
For the eternal record, here is the statement of Nigel Wright this morning.
“In light of the controversy surrounding my handling of matters involving Senator Duffy, the Prime Minister has accepted my resignation as Chief of Staff.
“My actions were intended solely to secure the repayment of funds, which I considered to be in the public interest, and I accept sole responsibility. I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.
“I regret the impact of this matter on the Government, our Caucus, and all of my colleagues, for whom I have the highest regard. I came to Ottawa to do my part in providing good government for Canada, and that is all that I ever wanted and worked for in this role.”
And here is the statement of the Prime Minister.
“It is with great regret that I have accepted the resignation of Nigel Wright as my Chief of Staff. I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign. I want to thank Nigel for his tremendous contribution to our Government over the past two and a half years.
“Our Government’s top priority is, and will continue to be, securing jobs and economic growth for Canada. This is the focus of all our efforts and attention.”
That last sentence of the Prime Minister’s is a bit silly given everything that has been the focus of his office’s effort and attention this past week, but perhaps he can’t be blamed for trying to conclude on a positive note.
It would be interesting to know whether Mr. Wright had offered his resignation before this morning. As of Thursday, the Prime Minister’s director of communications was refusing to say whether such an offer had been made and the Prime Minister was said to have full confidence in his chief of staff. (Update 12:40pm. An insider offers one version of events to the Globe.)
It has only gotten worse since then.
Mr. Wright has been reported to have been involved in a deal to whitewash the Senate investigation of Mike Duffy. Pamela Wallin has departed the Conservative caucus amid questions about her spending. Patrick Brazeau has produced an email that he says is evidence he did nothing wrong in claiming a housing allowance. And an anonymous Conservative MP has claimed to be “full of rage” over the whole thing. CTV’s Robert Fife is apparently reporting that Conservative MPs wanted Mr. Wright to depart.
Rob Walsh, former parliamentary law clerk, gave an interview last week to CBC radio’s The House, in which he used the phrase “unbelievable” to describe Mr. Wright’s cheque for Mr. Duffy. Here are four of the five.
This, to me, is unbelievable, frankly. It just simply is unbelievable. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It is unbelievable, to my judgement, at that level something like this could have happened.
Where did they think they were going with this? It’s just simply unbelievable. That’s why it begs for explanation [...] a credible explanation, ostensibly by some third party, not the Senate doing its explanation and the Prime Minister’s Office doing their explanation, which should be forthcoming, no question. They need some referee to step in and look at the facts and examine it and report to Canadians whether there was anything that puts into question the integrity of the government or the Senate.
Unbelievable, of course, has a couple meanings, but either might be applied here. It is an adjective that all sides might agree to apply to this mess. But it is something that must be accounted for, regardless of whether Mr. Wright was to be working now for the Prime Minister or Gerry Schwartz or whoever. What were the terms of his deal with Mike Duffy? At the very least there should be House committee hearings, perhaps as early as this week (perhaps encouraged by the government backbenchers who have lately sought to demonstrate their interest in the principles of parliamentary democracy?), to begin to investigate this matter. Mr. Wright should be called for. Mr. Duffy should be invited.
This government has always seemed to have a keen understanding of what it could get away with or at least an ability to get away with things. No one had to resign over in-and-out and the government won a promotion after being found in contempt of Parliament. Maybe all governments possess such resiliency, up until the point that they don’t. Maybe this government has finally done something that it cannot so easily get away with. For now, it is simply unbelievable that it is Mike Duffy’s housing allowance that should shake this government like nothing else since the late fall of 2008.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 10:48 AM - 0 Comments
And so suddenly Ray Novak is the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.
Full disclosure to be applied from this point forward: Mr. Novak and I first crossed paths in university, he as a student politician, me as a student journalist covering student politics. He ran for student council president and lost. But he seems to have done all right since then.
Here is the profile I wrote of Mr. Novak two years ago. He is the Prime Minister’s longest-serving aide, an individual who once slept in the bunk above the garage at Stornoway when Mr. Harper was leader of the opposition.
Now it is Mr. Novak to whom Mr. Harper turns at one of the most critical moments in his premiership.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 3:12 PM - 0 Comments
First, CTV says Pamela Wallin was forced out amid concerns about the audit of her expenses. Next, CTV says the Senate’s report on Mike Duffy was edited as part of a deal with Nigel Wright. Via Twitter, the Prime Minister’s director of communications denies CTV’s report that the Prime Minister might prorogue Parliament in early June.
The weekly meeting of the Conservative caucus, which normally occurs on Wednesday, has been rescheduled for Tuesday morning before the Prime Minister departs for Peru. The Star describes this as an emergency caucus meeting at which the Prime Minister is expected to set out a zero tolerance policy on spending transgressions.
Jason Fekete notes that Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Patrick Brazeau were all nominated for the Senate on the same day—December 22, 2008—along with 15 other Conservative appointees. But that date is particularly interesting for everything that occurred in the month preceding it.
In the 2006 election, the Conservatives promised to not appoint to the Senate anyone who hadn’t won a mandate to do so from voters. And up until December 22, 2008, Stephen Harper had only appointed two senators—Michael Fortier, shortly after the 2006 election, so that Mr. Fortier might serve in cabinet, and Bert Brown in 2007 with Mr. Brown having won a Senate election in Alberta.
Then Stephen Harper almost lost his government.
Four weeks before those 18 appointees were announced, the Conservative government tabled its fall economic update (the last such economic update to be tabled in the House, actually). The measures contained therein, including the elimination of the public subsidy for political parties, had precipitated coalition talks between the Liberals and New Democrats. On December 1, the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois announced their accord. Facing an imminent vote of non-confidence and the possible replacement of his government with a coalition government led by Stephane Dion, Mr. Harper asked the Governor General, Michaelle Jean at the time, to prorogue Parliament. After some consideration, she agreed to do so.
The coalition’s moment might have thus passed, but it was not yet officially dead. The Liberals quickly installed Michael Ignatieff as leader and he maintained that the coalition was an option. Not until Parliament reconvened in late January and a new budget was tabled, did Mr. Ignatieff effectively kill the coalition.
Just as Mr. Ignatieff was taking over the Liberal caucus, the Prime Minister’s Office revealed that Mr. Harper would fill 18 Senate vacancies before Christmas. A debate about the legitimacy of doing so ensued. Mr. Harper claimed to be in a difficult spot that compelled him to do something. And then, on December 22, Mr. Harper named his 18 appointees, asserting that the appointments were important both in the pursuit of Senate reform and in the interests of opposing the coalition.
“Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate,” said the Prime Minister. “If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for.”
The incoming Senators have all pledged to support eight-year term limits and other Senate reform legislation. Each incoming Senator has also declared his or her unwavering commitment to support Canadian unity and oppose the coalition.
This did not go over terribly well with Mr. Harper’s opponents.
“Mr. Harper knows that he does not have the confidence of the House of Commons,” Ignatieff said in a statement. “Appointing senators when he lacks a mandate from Parliament is not acceptable.”
It’s possible that the coalition was less a cause of the appointments than an excuse to make them. And possibly Mr. Harper was going to have to appoint senators at some point anyway (he’d hinted at such a possibility in October 2008). But December 22, 2008 does now seem like the plot point of a bad political thriller.
Four and a half years later, the Harper government’s Senate reform legislation is collecting dust while the Supreme Court prepares to hear a reference on the matter and three of the December 2008 appointees have either been removed or removed themselves from the Conservative caucus.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 7:35 PM - 0 Comments
This might otherwise have been the week that a government with a notable aversion to the legislature was reelected in a vote that included the ballots of just 52% of eligible voters. This might otherwise have been the week that Peter Penashue, he of the disputed campaign finances and boasting of holding up public projects in Newfoundland for the sake of a highway in Labrador, was soundly defeated in a by-election. Instead this was the week of Mike Duffy. At least in those places where it was not the week of Rob Ford. Or the mayor of Laval’s envelopes.
This was more specifically, at least in Ottawa and at least where people care about how public officials are behaving in regards to public funds, the week of Mr. Duffy’s housing allowance. Something like $90,172.24, including interest and some disputed per diems, spread over a few years.
Could this possibly have been worth that much? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 5:51 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from Senator Pamela Wallin.
I have been involved in the external audit process since December 2012 and I have been cooperating fully and willingly with the auditors. I have met with the auditors, answered all the questions and provided all requested documentation.
I had anticipated that the audit process would be complete by now, but given that it continues, I have decided to recuse myself from the Conservative Caucus and I will have no further comment until the audit process is complete.
And a succinct statement from Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton.
“Senator Wallin has informed me that she has resigned from Caucus to sit as an independent.”
CTV reported in February that Ms. Wallin had paid back some amount of expenses, but Ms. Wallin declined to confirm that.