By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 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.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
A little more of the back story to this week’s news about Thomas Mulcair and the envelope.
In November 2010, Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Menard, since retired, alleged that, in 1993, he was offered a cash-filled envelope by the mayor of Laval. On November 16, 2010, Mr. Mulcair—nearer the end of a news conference with Pat Martin about Louis Riel—was asked about the controversy.
Two questions for Mr. Mulcair. One, you might have heard of allegations of the mayor of Laval handing out cash in envelopes. Were you ever offered cash in an envelope by the mayor of Laval? Did you ever see cash in envelopes around the mayor of Laval?
Mr. Mulcair responded as follows.
No. And one thing preoccupies me with that is that a person who went on to become justice minister and public security minister, felt that he wouldn’t do anything about it. In my career, the only time anybody ever came up to me with an issue they described had happened to them, that would’ve constituted an offence, I invited the person to go to the police and when they said they weren’t sure if they could do that, I said that I would do it myself and I did. And it had nothing to do, by the way, with Laval city hall. It was an issue involving somebody in the work that I was doing at the time. So I’ll leave it to you to sort out the different versions that are no doubt going to come out today. But all I can say is, as a citizen, I’m worried with regard to our democratic institutions when someone who went on to become justice minister and public security minister says he didn’t seem to have anything he could do about it and in regard to those institutions I think it’s a serious preoccupation for all of us.
As the Canadian Press noted yesterday and the Globe’s Daniel LeBlanc notes in his story, whether Mr. Mulcair saw what was in the envelope that the mayor of Laval alleged brandished during the 1994 meeting—apparently before Mr. Mulcair was elected, for whatever that is worth—is a matter of some debate. But the Conservatives seem to be trying to chide Mr. Mulcair now in a similar fashion to the way Mr. Mulcair chided Mr. Menard in 2010.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 12:17 PM - 0 Comments
According to a Conservative Senate source, Conservative senators will be asking on Tuesday that the internal economy committee’s report on Mike Duffy be referred back to the committee so that the committee can investigate yesterday’s reports about Mr. Duffy’s expense claims during the 2011 election.
The Elections Canada guide for parties explains the rules around “expenses of senators and elected members” thusly.
Where a senator, or a person who is an elected member of the House of Commons or any provincial legislature, campaigns on behalf of a party, the expenses related to that person’s involvement in the campaign are campaign expenses of the party and must be authorized beforehand by a registered agent.
For example, if a minister or other member of Parliament travels from Ottawa to assist in the party’s campaign, the costs of travelling to the district, and the costs of accommodation and transportation within the district, are considered campaign expenses of the party.
However, if the minister’s trip is carried out in conjunction with an official government function, using government‑paid transportation, then the chief agent must allocate a proportionate share of the transportation, and accommodation and any other expenses to the party as an election expense. This allocation should be made on the basis of the proportion of time spent on each activity.
Elections Canada will accept the basis of allocation used by the chief agent, provided that it is reasonable, in the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer, and provided that the auditor agrees that the allocation is reasonable and in keeping with this handbook.
The chief agent or registered agent must pay the expenses of senators and elected members incurred while campaigning for a party because senators and elected members of Parliament are not eligible contributors to a party’s campaign other than as individuals.
The handbook for candidates has similar language.
If a senator, a minister or another candidate campaigns on behalf of the candidate, the expenses related to that person’s involvement in the campaign are election expenses and have to be authorized in advance by the official agent, the candidate or a person authorized in writing by the official agent. Any travel expense has to be reimbursed using campaign funds or accepted as a non-monetary contribution if paid by an eligible contributor.
The Prime Minister’s director of communications spoke with reporters this morning. John Geddes looks at what he had to say.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is scheduled to depart for Peru on Tuesday afternoon and return on Friday evening. He’ll presumably take questions from reporters during the trip to the Pacific Alliance Leaders’ Summit—perhaps on Wednesday—but he’ll be away from the House all next week.
Scott Reid, former director of communications to Paul Martin, says Nigel Wright “will have to go.”
Update 1:06pm. NDP MP Craig Scott has written to the Commissioner of Canada Elections to ask that he investigate Mr. Duffy’s actions during the last campaign. The full letter is here.
In terms of Mike Duffy, audits performed by Deloitte indicate that Senator Duffy was listed as being on Senate business at an “other location” during six days of the month of April, wholly during the writ period. There is also evidence of Senator Duffy campaigning for the Conservative Party of Canada and for various local Conservative candidates throughout the writ period. Some of these local campaigns have stated in their financial reports that they reimbursed the Senator directly for his trip expenses. Given that the Senator claimed taxpayer-funded Senate per diems on several occasions during the month of April, it raises the question of whether Mr. Duffy claimed both expenses on the same days.
This also raises concerns over whether Senator Duffy charged Conservative campaigns for the full cost of his travel, or whether part of these costs were unfairly born by the taxpayer and possibly constitute an unclaimed campaign expense. I note that the Elections Canada Act specifically prohibits the concealment of donations under the “Contributions” section of the act…
Given that Senator Duffy apparently refused to co-operate with the Deloitte auditors and reportedly failed to fully disclose details regarding his whereabouts and activities during the 2011 election campaign, we are asking that you initiate an investigation to determine whether any money was improperly used or concealed by Senator Duffy, the Conservative Party of Canada or any of the local campaigns involved.
Mr. Scott also cites several other senators whose expenses he would like to see scrutinized.
Update 3:58pm. Via email, a comment from Senator Grant Mitchell, who is referenced in Craig Scott’s letter.
While the paper files are archived and we are getting them asap, all the electronic info my office and the Senate Admin have confirmed that I claimed absolutely nothing for the writ period from the Senate. It was certainly my policy and recollection, confirmed by the data I have right now, that I claimed nothing from the Senate. I even shut down my Senate web site. I am pushing to get the archived files.
It might be that the NDP have checked the election expense reports submitted by campaigns which may have included expenses attributed to my visit to a constituency(s) to campaign(s), for example. This is done so there is clear reporting on that spending is within election limits. I recollect that I got no direct reimbursement from any campaign either.
Update 5:40pm. The NDP’s director of fundraising has just sent out a note, entitled “90,000 reasons to abolish the Senate.”
Enough is enough. It’s time to abolish the Senate. Make a special one-time donation to our Senate campaign today…
Donate to our Senate campaign right now. Your donation of $5, $10 or $50 will help pay for websites, emails and online advertising – all the tools we need to send Stephen Harper and Mike Duffy a message they can’t ignore.
Update 5:55pm. And now Pamela Wallin has left the Conservative caucus.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 9:10 PM - 0 Comments
A statement from Marjory LeBreton, leader of the government in the Senate.
“Senator Duffy has informed me that he has resigned from caucus to sit as an independent senator.”
And a statement from Mr. Duffy.
“It is clear the public controversy surrounding me and the repayment of my Senate expenses has become a significant distraction to my caucus colleagues, and to the government. Given that my presence within the Conservative caucus only contributes to that distraction, I have decided to step outside of the caucus and sit as an independent Senator pending resolution of these questions.
“Throughout this entire situation I have sought only to do the right thing. I look forward to all relevant facts being made clear in due course, at which point I am hopeful I will be able to rejoin the Conservative caucus.
“This has been a difficult time for me and my family, and we are going to take some time away from the public. I ask the media to respect our privacy while these questions are resolved through the appropriate processes.”
A government source says “there are a growing number of questions about Mr. Duffy’s conduct that don’t have answers” and that reports that Senator Duffy had taken out a loan—as CTV first reported last night—came as a “complete surprise.”
Update 10:07pm. CTV is now reporting that Mr. Duffy “attempted to influence the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission’s upcoming decision involving the right-leaning Sun News Network.”
A well-placed source told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that Duffy approached a Conservative insider with connections to the CRTC three weeks ago to discuss Sun Media, which is asking the federal regulator to grant its news channel “mandatory carriage,” or guaranteed placement on basic cable and satellite packages. The move would boost Sun News Network’s profile and revenues.
“You know people at the CRTC,” the insider quoted Duffy as saying. “This is an important decision on Sun Media. They have to play with the team and support Sun Media’s request.”
Update 11:39pm. The Canadian Press reports that Senator Duffy was facing a revolt.
Conservative sources said the vast majority of his Senate colleagues had signed a petition calling for his ouster from caucus and they were prepared to confront Duffy with that petition at a meeting next Tuesday evening.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 5:20 PM - 0 Comments
In the wake of a report from La Presse about Thomas Mulcair’s statements to police about a meeting with former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, the NDP released a statement from Mr. Mulcair this morning.
In early 2011, I met with the police in order to help in their investigation.
I gave to them my account of a meeting I had with Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt dating back to 1994.
As is indicated, I effectively and immediately ended the meeting with Mr. Vaillancourt.
This matter is currently before the courts and I will therefore avoid further comment.
The Conservatives followed that with a statement from Peter Van Loan.
The Canadian Press summarizes.
A statement from House Leader Peter Van Loan accused Mulcair of remaining silent about corruption for two decades. It also accused him of lying during a 2010 press conference, when he said he had never been offered a bribe during his time in Quebec politics…
It’s unclear whether Mulcair was in fact lying on Nov. 16, 2010, when a journalist asked at an Ottawa press conference whether he had ever been offered cash envelopes by Vaillancourt and he said: “No.” The report in La Presse said Mulcair told police he’d actually left the 1994 meeting without opening, or accepting, a white envelope and did not know for sure that there was cash inside.