Back from break, opposition leaders tackle Tories over Senate spending

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on May 21, 2013. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

The attack dogs were back in the background as the opposition party leaders returned from a break week and personally led the charge against the Harper government’s Senate spending scandal.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was in Jamaica last week for downtime with his family, while NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair rested in his home province of Quebec for the long weekend.

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While they had been away, MPs such as Charlie Angus and Françoise Boivin of the NDP, and Dominic LeBlanc and Ralph Goodale of the Liberal Party, went after the government at every twist and turn in the controversial $90,000 payout to embattled Senator Mike Duffy.

Stephen Harper was not in Question Period, given he had already flown off for an official visit to South America, but the NDP and Liberal Party both aimed their questions at the Prime Minister and his Office.

Mr. Trudeau has focused almost all of his questions on the Canadian middle class since he won the Liberal leadership in April. On Tuesday, however, he asked to see the documents through which the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, offered a $90,000 gift to Mr. Duffy to repay ill-claimed Senate expenses.

“It is clear now that the Conservative government under the Prime Minister has lost its moral compass,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Canadians deserve better. They deserve actual transparency and accountability.”

Mr. Mulcair, who prefers to focus on economic issues in his questions to the government, started off by taking a shot at Mr. Harper’s decision to miss Question Period for his foreign trip.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going, to Peru apparently,” Mr. Mulcair said, before accusing the government of engaging in a cover-up by paying off Mr. Duffy’s expense claims.

“In exchange, Duffy paid off illegal expenses, stopped co-operating with auditors, and the PMO said in writing that they would go easy on him. In his own words, Senator Duffy stayed silent on the orders of the Prime Minister’s Office,” Mr. Mulcair said.

Neither opposition leader, however, managed to rattle John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Conservative point man during Question Period in the Prime Minister’s absence. At every turn, Mr. Baird batted away the questions that came his way, or played down the extent of the controversy that has affected his government.

“This matter has been referred to two independent bodies that will review it. We look forward to hearing their comments,” Mr. Baird said, referring to continuing investigations by the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer.

Still, it was under questioning from Mr. Trudeau that the Conservative minister revealed that there is apparently no written deal between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy.

“Our understanding is there is no document,” Mr. Baird told the Liberal Leader.

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