Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Living expenses claimed while Duffy away: report

Senators vote to send matter to RCMP

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OTTAWA -- Senate officials confirmed they have found a troubling pattern of Sen. Mike Duffy claiming Ottawa living expenses while travelling elsewhere, including several days in 2011 when he was campaigning across the country for the Conservatives.

Senators meeting at a committee late Tuesday voted to send the matter of Duffy's expenses to the RCMP, after hearing the new information. Duffy's claims had originally been scrutinized to determine where his principal residence was -- the latest information introduces a whole new wrinkle into the scandal.

Duffy did not attend the meeting. Last week, he said he was looking forward to setting the record straight at the committee.

Senate finance officials detailed how Duffy made claims for living expenses for being on Senate business in Ottawa while he was elsewhere in the country.

The Canadian Press first reported two weeks ago Duffy had said he was on Senate business while campaigning with Conservative candidates.

But it wasn't until the latest report was tabled Tuesday night an accounting was given on the precise days Duffy claimed expenses.

During the 2011 election, Duffy asked for Ottawa-based living expenses on seven separate days when he was out of town.

In total, in 2011 and 2012, Duffy made claims on 49 days he was not in Ottawa. Senate finance officials rejected 24 of those claims at the time they were made, but didn't raise alarm bells.

"It represents a pattern that raises concerns," the report released Tuesday said.

'It represents a pattern that raises concerns'

-- Senate report

An independent audit by the firm Deloitte raised the possibility Duffy had been claiming expenses while not in Ottawa, but underlined the senator had not provided adequate documentation and never met with auditors.

The firm also pointed out one unusual situation where Duffy claimed to be in Ottawa, but was vacationing in Florida. Duffy called it a "clerical error."

The Conservatives in the Senate declared the matter closed shortly after receiving the audit, pointing to the fact Duffy had repaid the $90,000 in living expenses.

The matter blew open again, however, when it was revealed the $90,000 bill was actually paid with the help of the prime minister's then chief of staff, Nigel Wright.

That payment took up most of question period in the Commons earlier Tuesday.

Eschewing the histrionics and partisan broadsides that normally dominate question period, opposition leaders posed short, sharp, relentless queries about when Prime Minister Stephen Harper learned about Wright's payment.

The onslaught elicited no new information as Harper stuck resolutely to his story Wright acted on his own, without informing the prime minister or anyone else in his office.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair showed off his skill as a lawyer, peppering Harper with 14 pointed questions:

"When did the prime minister first speak with Nigel Wright about Mike Duffy's expenses?" he asked.

"How many times did he speak with Nigel Wright in the week preceding his resignation?"

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau followed suit. "Will the prime minister commit to releasing all records, emails, documents and correspondence relating to any arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy?" Trudeau asked.

"Will the prime minister commit to having everyone involved in this affair, including himself, testify about their involvement in a public forum, under oath?"

Harper committed to nothing and offered little new information.

He insisted he first learned on May 15 Wright had cut a personal cheque to pay for Duffy's invalid expense claims.

"Until the morning of May 15, when Mr. Wright informed me that he had written a personal cheque to Mr. Duffy so that he could repay his expenses, it had been my understanding that Mr. Duffy had paid from his own personal resources," Harper told the Commons.

He added there was no legal agreement between Wright and Duffy, "to my knowledge."

Opposition leaders weren't buying it.

Mulcair pointed out Duffy ceased co-operating with external auditors who were examining his expenses as soon as the $90,000 was paid and he sent an email suggesting he "stayed silent on the orders of the Prime Minister's Office."

"Who told Mike Duffy to remain silent?" Mulcair demanded.

"These are not matters I am privy to," replied Harper.

"This is an email from Mike Duffy, who is no longer a member of our caucus and certainly never conveyed that information to me."

Mulcair further noted the Conservative majority on the Senate's internal economy committee "whitewashed" its report on the audit of Duffy's expenses, deleting references the rules on housing allowances are clear and unambiguous.

He pointed out Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen, Harper's former press secretary, moved the motion to delete the damning paragraph from the Duffy report -- although the same paragraph featured prominently in the committee's reports on two other senators' expenses claims.

Harper insisted he had no conversation with Stewart Olsen about Duffy's expenses and maintained his office had nothing to do with the Senate committee's report.

"It is the author of its own report. That report mirrors the recommendations of an independent audit," the prime minister maintained.

Harper's version of events was dismissed as implausible.

"This is what the prime minister would have Canadians believe," said Trudeau.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2013 A12

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