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Manitoba senators weigh in on scandal

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OTTAWA -- Current and former Manitoba senators say the upper chamber needs to publicly disclose expense accounts, but they're divided about whether Sen. Mike Duffy should be shown the door.

Manitoba Tory Sen. Don Plett said talk about Senate reform often refers to whether to elect senators or impose term limits. "You need to go way beyond that," he said.

Plett commented as the scandal around four senators accused of improper expense claims grows. Duffy quit the Tory caucus and sits as an independent after it was made public he received a $90,172 cheque from Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, to repay Duffy's ineligible expenses. Wright quit over the scandal.

Duffy was ordered to repay the money after an audit found his primary residence is in Ottawa, not in Prince Edward Island. A Senate committee is taking a second look at Duffy's expenses after it was alleged he claimed per diems while he vacationed and while he campaigned for the Tories in 2011.

Conservative Sen. Leader Marjory LeBreton delivered a speech Wednesday promising reforms to expense rules.

Before LeBreton's speech, Plett said he's behind the idea 100 per cent.

"I am entirely supportive of transparency and accountability," he said.

A number of senators, including some Conservatives, called for Duffy to leave the Senate. But Plett said he is waiting until all the facts are in.

"It's not my business to pass judgment. If Mike Duffy has broken a law that is indictable he will have to resign."

Manitoba Liberal Sen. Maria Chaput had this blunt assessment: "He should have resigned already."

"There is too much stuff here. You just can't go on here saying you just made a mistake. He's in the Senate of Canada and people expect more."

Chaput said she is "all for attacking the regulations" but accused the government of trying to disguise its own wrongdoing with partisan attacks. Chaput was livid after LeBreton's speech, calling it "a low blow and dirty" for attacking the Liberals instead of owning up to the problems caused by the Conservatives.

"It's terrible. It's dirty politics. They are mixing up the facts and trying to obscure the fact Mr. Harper is at the top of all of this," said Chaput.

Retired Manitoba Liberal senator Sharon Carstairs said she has always believed expenses should be fully disclosed but said there has always been push back and it has never happened.

Carstairs said she used to teach a Senate school for new appointees that covered Senate rules and procedures including expense claims.

"The only Liberal that refused to come was Mac Harb," she said.

She said when the Tories took over the government in 2006, LeBreton told Carstairs she was too partisan to continue teaching. so the Senate school stopped. Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin were appointed after 2006.

Senators Brazeau and Mac Harb were also ordered to repay housing expenses but both are fighting it. Brazeau was fired from the Tory caucus after being criminally charged and Harb quit the Liberal caucus over the expenses issue.

Wallin left the Conservative caucus last week. Her travel expenses are being audited. Those travel expenses, more than $321,000 since September 2010, have been the subject of an external audit by Deloitte since December.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2013 A4

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