By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 17, 2013 - 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 John Geddes - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 11:46 AM - 0 Comments
Andrew MacDougall, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s director of communications, spoke with reporters today in the National Press Theatre, just off Parliament Hill, about the unusual decision of Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, to cut Sen. Mike Duffy a cheque for about $90,000.
As most Canadians know by now, Duffy resigned yesterday from the Conservative caucus, which puts some distance between the controversy-plagued senator and the government. But Wright’s decision to dip into his personal wealth to give Duffy the money he needed to repay improperly claimed Senate expenses has brought the issue to the very heart of Harper’s own political operation.
MacDougall’s responses today offer three key indications about how the Tories hope to contain the damage from this controversy. Here are the main points that emerged from his exchange with reporters:
By Nick Taylor-Vaisey - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 9:01 AM - 0 Comments
Here’s one version of the story about Senator Mike Duffy: When he claimed a primary residence in P.E.I., and not the suburban Ottawa home where he’d lived for decades, he was legitimately confused about the rules. He ticked the wrong box, inadvertently—oops—and, as a result, accidentally claimed $90,172.24 in expenses.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM - 0 Comments
Liberal MP Sean Casey says Mike Duffy should resign and Mr. Casey likely came to that conclusion before he was aware that Mr. Duffy’s Senate expense claims seem to overlap with time he spent campaigning for the Conservatives in the last election.
The full extent of Duffy’s Senate expenses during the writ period remains a mystery — the Conservative government is refusing to reveal the full breakdown of the senator’s claims and his repayment of $90,172.24. But independent auditors at the firm Deloitte listed Duffy as being in Ottawa on Senate business and claiming a daily expense for seven days in April 2011, a month that was dominated by campaigning for the May 2 vote.
All of yesterday’s news is here.
Update 11:21am. On the off chance that the Senate Ethics Officer hadn’t heard about Mr. Duffy’s situation, NDP MP Charlie Angus has written to her to request that she look into the cheque he received from Mr. Wright.
Update 11:33am. The CBC finds more paperwork related to Senator Duffy’s campaigning in 2011.
The Deloitte audit that reviewed the living and travel expense claims for Duffy and senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau shows that Duffy was neither in Ottawa or Prince Edward Island but in an “other location” on Senate business on April 27 and 28, 2011 … But an invoice written by Duffy is titled, “Mike Duffy campaigning in the GTA, April 27 & 28, 2011.” It indicates he flew out of Ottawa on April 27, spent the night in a hotel in Toronto on April 28, and flew back to Ottawa on April 29. The invoice is included in Elections Canada campaign expense records for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s campaign. Oliver was elected in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence.
An email from a political operations officer for the Conservative Party of Canada, Felix Wong, to Oliver’s campaign manager, John Penner, is also in the expense file. It says the total cost for Duffy’s trip to Toronto was $1,355.56 and “that amount will be divided between the eight ridings that he visited, so each riding will be responsible for $169.45.”
Update 11:49am. Included in CTV’s report last night was the suggestion of some influence over the Senate committee’s investigation. I asked the Prime Minister’s Office if there was a response to that report and here, for the record, is what I was told.
The committee reached its own conclusions based on the independent audits provided by Deloitte.
I also asked the office of Senator David Tkachuk questions about any knowledge he might have had of Mr. Wright’s agreement with Mr. Duffy. Here, for the record, is what I was told by his office.
Senator Tkachuk says that the cheque for reimbursement that we got from Senator Duffy was a personal cheque. We never inquired as to where he got the money for that cheque, nor will we be concerned from where Senators Harb or Brazeau get the money. Our business is to see that taxpayers are reimbursed.
Update 1:21pm. The Senate Ethics Officer won’t comment on specific cases, but I asked the office of the Senate Ethics Officer for guidance in interpreting Section 17 of the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code—noted here yesterday and identified by the NDP today in Ms. Angus’ letter to the ethics officer—and it provided the following.
Section 17 of the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators (the Code) governs gifts or benefits, but only those that relate to a senator’s official functions…
Subsection 17(1) prohibits a senator from receiving any gift or benefit, directly or indirectly, that could reasonably be considered to relate to the senator’s position.
Subsection 17(2) is an exception to this general prohibition about receiving gifts or benefits in the context of a senator’s official duties and functions. This subsection provides that, if the gift or benefit does relate to the senator’s position, but was received by the senator as a normal expression of courtesy or protocol or was received within the customary standards of hospitality that normally accompany a senator’s position, the senator may accept it.
Under subsection 17(3), only those gifts or benefits that are received as a normal expression of courtesy or protocol, or those that are within the customary standards of hospitality that normally accompany a senator’s position, are required to be disclosed to the SEO, who then publicly discloses them, and only if the value of any such gift or benefit exceeds $500. These gifts or benefits must be disclosed to the SEO within 30 days of receipt of the gift. As already noted, the SEO will then make this information publicly available.
Whether a particular gift or benefit is acceptable depends upon the particular facts involved. So, by way of example, a gift or benefit from a family member or a friend of a senator could not, in most cases, reasonably be considered to relate to a senator’s official duties and functions and, as such, would fall outside the prohibition in subsection 17(1) of the Code. On the other hand, a gift or benefit that is provided to influence a senator in the performance of his or her duties and functions could reasonably be considered to relate to a senator’s position.
Update 4:09pm. Nigel Wright apparently still has the confidence of the Prime Minister.
Update 5:31pm. And now Senator Patrick Brazeau wants a public hearing into the expenses scandal.
Update 9:36pm. Mike Duffy has resigned from the Conservative caucus.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 5:36 PM - 0 Comments
It is tempting to frame the news that Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, took the extraordinary step of personally giving more than $90,000 to Mike Duffy, the senator from (ostensibly) Prince Edward Island, strictly in terms of the stark contrast between the two main characters.
The story—broken over at CTV by Robert Fife—has Wright giving Duffy a fat cheque to allow him to repay improperly claimed Senate housing allowances. The gift-giver could hardly be a more guardedly low-profile public office holder; the recipient is about the most outsized character in the Upper Chamber.
If Duffy’s fame as a longtime TV news personality, before his Senate appointment, was once a boon to the Conservatives, allowing him to serve as a party fundraising draw, that same notoriety now makes this unwelcome story that much bigger. And if Wright’s reticence was previously seen as an exemplary attribute in a Harper-era political aide, that same discretion might make him seem, in this new context, a rather shadowy figure.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 12:07 PM - 0 Comments
Back in February, Mike Duffy announced that, in order to turn the page, he would be repaying the housing allowance he had claimed as a senator.
Last night, CTV reported that there was some kind of deal between Mr. Duffy and Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. This morning, CTV reports that Mr. Wright wrote a cheque for the $90,172 in question, apparently as a gift from Mr. Wright to Mr. Duffy. The Canadian Press reports that the Prime Minister was not aware of the gift.
Here is the official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Government believes that taxpayers should not be on the hook for improper expense claims made by Senators.
Mr. Duffy agreed to repay the expenses because it was the right thing to do. However, Mr. Duffy was unable to make a timely repayment.
Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could repay the outstanding amount.
The independent external audit by Deloitte looking into Senate expenses was completed and the results tabled.
Mr. Duffy has reimbursed taxpayers for his impugned claims. Mr. Harb and Mr. Brazeau should pay taxpayers back immediately.
Update 1:35pm. The NDP wants an “independent investigation” into this entire matter and they allege “unethical behaviour” inside the Prime Minister’s Office, but it’s not yet entirely clear how the Conflict of Interest Act or the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code should be applied in a situation such as this. I’ve asked the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer for comment.
Update 2:33pm. The ethics commissioner’s office corrects me: the Conflict of Interest Act doesn’t apply to Mike Duffy. As a Senator, he is covered by the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code. Mr. Wright is covered, as a public office holder, by the Act, but there’s no indication that he received a gift here. Otherwise, I’m told “Commissioner Dawson is reviewing this matter in order to determine how the other provisions of the Act might apply, and is following up with Mr. Wright.”
Senator Duffy has not yet commented, but CTV’s Robert Fife’s has referred to “financial problems” and concerns that, because of health issues, Mr. Duffy’s wife might left with a debt to pay. The Canadian Press adds similar context.
A government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Wright and Duffy are friends and that Wright offered the money as a gift rather than a loan. Duffy had been experiencing financial difficulties, the source said.
Update 4:59pm. A statement from Senator David Tkachuk, chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee.
There have been inquiries in the press recently about untoward influence on the Senate Committee on Internal Economy’s conduct of its work involving Senator Mike Duffy’s living expense claims. The Steering Committee of Internal Economy referred Senator Duffy to independent auditors. This was supported by leadership on both sides, the point being that in the interest of propriety the issue should be dealt with at arm’s length. We on the committee conducted ourselves appropriately throughout this whole process. We made available to Deloitte all documents in the hands of our Finance Directorate pertaining to Senator Duffy’s expense claims for the entire period of the audit. We had no control – nor did we wish to have control – over what Deloitte would conclude.
The Star has reviewed some of the concerns raised about the Senate’s investigation.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Press reviews Senator Duffy’s role as a Conservative fundraiser.
Update 5:32pm. The Sun seems to have the only comment, such as it is, from Senator Duffy today.
The former television host wouldn’t comment Wednesday. “I can’t talk and I’m not talking,” he said when reached by phone.
Update 5:57pm. John Geddes considers Nigel Wright, Mike Duffy and the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code. Here is what Section 17 of the Code states.
Prohibition: gifts and other benefits
17. (1) Neither a Senator, nor a family member, shall accept, directly or indirectly, any gift or other benefit, except compensation authorized by law, that could reasonably be considered to relate to the Senator’s position.
(2) A Senator, and a family member, may, however, accept gifts or other benefits received as a normal expression of courtesy or protocol, or within the customary standards of hospitality that normally accompany the Senator’s position.
Statement: gift or other benefit
(3) If a gift or other benefit that is accepted under subsection (2) by a Senator or his or her family members exceeds $500 in value, or if the total value of all such gifts or benefits received from one source in a 12-month period exceeds $500, the Senator shall, within 30 days after the gift or benefit is received or after that total value is exceeded, as the case may be, file with the Senate Ethics Officer a statement disclosing the nature and value of the gifts or other benefits, their source and the circumstances under which they were given.
Update 6:20pm. Kady O’Malley offers her thoughts on Section 17 and whether Mr. Wright’s gift constitutes a violation of the Code.
Update 8:33pm. Global adds some context on the relationship between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy.
An official speaking on background said Wright and Duffy go back to the 1980s during the Brian Mulroney days.
The Globe notes that Mr. Wright worked in Mr. Mulroney’s PMO.
What this amounts to seems, to me, to depend on whether Mr. Wright’s cheque was inappropriate or merely odd. That’s at least the question I’m still trying to sort out.
Update 11:19pm. CTV has now posted the latest report from Robert Fife—click on the video—including Senator Duffy’s denial last night that Mr. Wright was involved and Conservative sources who say Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright were not close friends.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 11, 2013 at 4:41 PM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister’s Office has released the above photo of today’s meeting. Seated to the Prime Minister’s right is Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and to Mr. Duncan’s right is National Chief Shawn Atleo. Beside Mr. Atleo are Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq. To Mr. Harper’s left are Greg Rickford, parliamentary secretary to Mr. Duncan, and Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
According to the PMO, the Prime Minister will be attending for the duration of today’s meetings. A news conference with someone from the government side is expected after the meeting concludes. Mr. Atleo is not scheduled to meet with the media.
By John Geddes, Paul Wells, Jonathon Gatehouse, Julie Smyth, Aaron Wherry and Michael Petrou - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Maclean’s 2012 power list
Ask around about the attributes of influence in the federal government during Stephen Harper’s rule. The answers will vary widely depending on who’s doing the talking, but certain elements will pop up with intriguing regularity. Just about everyone, for instance, agrees that power these days tilts westward. And, sure enough, the top three on our list—the Prime Minister himself, inevitably, followed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the governor of the Bank of Canada—all hail from Alberta.
Yet Harper had little to do with the rise of Beverley McLachlin and Mark Carney. So is this top-of-the-list cluster of Albertans mere happenstance, or a true sign of a pattern of power? One thing it isn’t, we promise, is a contrivance. Maclean’s writers and editors compiled this admittedly subjective list based on our own combined experience covering Ottawa’s most important people, tested against the sage insights of political strategists, veterans of the public service and lobbyists who make it their business to size up the city’s elite.
What makes one partisan or public servant, public figure or private power broker seem to matter more than another can be mysterious. In some cases, managerial style lifted a figure into our sights, like McLachlin’s subtle touch with the nine egos on the top court, or the way top bureaucrat Wayne Wouters boosts the morale of a public service whose pinnacle he commands. Often power flows in well-worn channels, as through the offices of the finance or foreign minister. Sometimes, though, someone cracks the institutional edifice, and influence streams in unexpectedly. Look at what Kevin Page has done as the first parliamentary budget officer. Continue…
By John Geddes - Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
When Nigel Wright took a leave of absence from Onex Corp., the big Toronto-based private equity company, to become Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff nearly two years ago, hard questions were asked about how such a widely connected business insider could possibly avoid ethical conflicts on federal policies that affect corporate interests. To try to put those concerns to rest, the federal ethics commissioner set up a “conflict of interest screen,” spelling out at least some files Wright wasn’t allowed to even hear about. There are grey zones, but the screen clearly deems a few topics out-of-bounds—including, for obvious reasons given Wright’s ties to Onex, “the taxation of the Canadian private equity industry and its participants.”
And yet, last May 10, an unnamed official from Omers—the Ontario municipal employees pension fund, and indisputably a major private equity “participant”—filed a report with the federal lobbying watchdog, as required by law, disclosing a phone call with Wright the previous month. Omers listed the subject of its lobbying as “taxation and finance.” For a big equity player to talk to Wright directly on taxation would seem to set off alarm bells about a possible violation of his ethical screen. Indeed, asked by Maclean’s about that call, the office of Mary Dawson, the ethics commissioner, said it planned to “follow up” with Wright on the matter, but declined any further comment.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said Barrick, which has mining operations in Argentina, called Wright to discuss Harper’s performance at the Summit of the Americas in April. The prime minister infuriated the Argentine government by blocking a declaration on its claim to the Falkland Islands.
Baird has insisted Wright did nothing wrong; he merely listened to Barrick’s concerns, said nothing, passed the matter over to others responsible for the file and was not involved in any decision relating to the company. Baird has not explained why Wright would have felt it necessary to participate in three separate calls — on May 14, 25 and 29 — if he had nothing to say and no responsibility for the matter.
By Paul Wells - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 10:05 AM - 126 Comments
Paul Wells takes an inside look at where the power really lies in Ottawa
For a loner, Stephen Harper works surprisingly well with others. The Prime Minister won his job by earning the loyalty of the old Reform party even though he used to be Preston Manning’s most persistent internal critic. He ended a decade’s rivalry with the Progressive Conservatives after doing more than almost anyone to fuel the rivalry.
He has wooed former Liberals into his caucus, sent New Democrat Gary Doer to Washington as Canada’s ambassador, and even put the occasional former Bloc Québécois member on the government payroll. No premier except Newfoundland’s now-retired Danny Williams has seen any political profit in antagonizing him. Harper drives his political opponents so crazy that it’s less frequently noticed how often he makes allies.
But the flip side of that coin is that his alliances rarely last. He hardly talks to former advisers like Tom Flanagan. He is on his fourth chief of staff, sixth communications director, and fifth foreign minister since he became Prime Minister. Jean Chrétien kept Eddie Goldenberg at his side for nearly 40 years. Paul Martin kept his 1990 Liberal leadership team around him until the day he retired. Harper’s team is like George Washington’s axe in the old joke, its blade replaced three times and its handle 26. All that remains is the ability to chop down opponents.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 4:49 PM - 7 Comments
The Prime Minister’s Office would like Conservative MPs to refrain from bringing too much attention upon themselves as it pertains to this year’s provincial elections.
“During these elections you may be called upon by a provincial candidate to assist them in their election. Please keep in mind that we do not want the federal government to become a story in any of these elections,” he warned….
The memo notes that, “In provinces where there is only one ‘conservative’ option, we may all make efforts as individuals on private time to assist the election of that option — provided that we comply with this policy.”
One might wonder whether Stephen Harper, with his comments at Rob Ford’s barbeque, already violated this rule about becoming the story.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 24, 2010 at 1:08 PM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister’s next chief of staff will be a former Bay Street executive who was educated at Harvard. Adjust your narratives accordingly.