On a day he claimed expenses for working as a senator in Ottawa, Mike Duffy was co-host of a CBC political panel covering the Prince Edward Island provincial election.
An analysis of the PEI senator’s living expenses by the Senate revealed Tuesday night that Mr. Duffy claimed the Ottawa expenses on a day external auditors had earlier found that he was in PEI. Mr. Duffy had returned to the province the weekend before the election and remained there until Oct. 3, 2011 – the day Islanders gave the provincial Liberals another majority government. He was in studio that night, a CBC spokesman confirmed.
It was one of two days that month when the PEI senator claimed expenses for work in Ottawa but was not actually in the city, according to a recent analysis by Senate finance staff. The other was Oct. 6, the day of the Ontario election. One of the two October claims was initially approved, though it’s not clear which.
Senate officials now say both were false and are part of a pattern of dozens of incorrect expense claims submitted by Mr. Duffy during a recent 18-month period in which he also tried to claim expenses for travel to PEI and per diems in Ottawa at the same time.
Until recently, the Senate committee in charge of reviewing senators’ expenses has held its meetings behind closed doors. It released external audits and reports on Mr. Duffy’s and two other senators’ living expenses this month, but is now dealing with the fallout of the revelation that Mr. Duffy repaid his expenses using money from the Prime Minister’s then-chief of staff.
That led to an unusual open meeting Tuesday night. Senate clerk Gary O’Brien told the committee about 49 cases over an 18-month period where Mr. Duffy claimed expenses by saying he was in Ottawa.
Of the claims, 24 were quickly rejected, including 18 claims for Ottawa expenses he made in August while he was staying in PEI. Mr. Duffy was in PEI for at least 24 days that month. He attended ceremonial events and was slated to appear at a Summerside airshow. He helped unveil a plaque to commemorate shipbuilding on the Island and spoke at a grand opening for an affordable housing development in Charlottetown, according to a news report and government press release.
Meanwhile, the senator had also submitted a second claim for travel expenses covering the same period – his travel expenses showed him in PEI while his per diem expenses purportedly placed him in Ottawa.
The contradictory claims raised red flags, and the claim was rejected. “We had some empirical evidence, through a travel claim, that he was in Prince Edward Island,” Mr. O’Brien told the committee.
The approved claims included six days in April during the 2011 election period, at a time when the Senate was not sitting and Mr. Duffy was campaigning for federal Conservative candidates. It also included a stretch of nearly two weeks when he was in Florida in January, 2012.
The review, based on Senate finance records and an external auditor’s report on Mr. Duffy’s housing expenses, suggests the Florida claim “is not an isolated incident; it represents a pattern that raises concerns,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Senate staff were already raising concerns about Mr. Duffy’s claims before an audit of his expenses began, a source close to the process said.
Senators voted Wednesday to give final approval to Tuesday’s internal economy committee report, which calls on the RCMP to look into Mr. Duffy’s expenses and the $90,000 payment he received from Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff. That money was used to repay taxpayers for expenses claimed for time in Ottawa.
Independent Senators Anne Cools and Mac Harb were unsuccessful in their attempt to postpone the vote.
Mr. Duffy could have appeared in the Senate to comment on the report, but he did not. Mr. Duffy had originally said he planned on attending Tuesday’s committee meeting. He didn’t, and hasn’t said why or responded to the revelations.
“It was Senator Duffy who has publicly asked for a public forum, and we are providing it here today, if he wants it,” committee chair Senator David Tkachuk said Tuesday evening.
Mr. Duffy has not responded to repeated requests for comment. A woman who answered the phone at his Ottawa-area house hung up when contacted Wednesday.
With a report from Bill Curry