Senators will be given an opportunity to question Mike Duffy about his expenses as they prepare to hold rare public hearings focused on the activities of one of their own.
Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative Government Leader in the Senate, said Tuesday that Senators will have the opportunity to pose questions directly to Mr. Duffy, possibly as early as late Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Duffy has been invited to attend Tuesday’s meeting of the internal economy committee – which was asked by the Senate to take a second look at Mr. Duffy’s expenses.
Meetings of the Senate internal economy committee are often held in camera. Mr. Duffy, the former Conservative senator who resigned from caucus to sit as an independent because of controversy over his expenses, has said he wants to tell his version of events in a public setting.
The decision by the Conservative majority to hold hearings into Mr. Duffy’s expenses was cited Tuesday by the Senate Speaker as the reason for ruling against a Liberal request that an investigation be launched into a potential contempt of Parliament by the government.
Liberal Senator James Cowan had argued that the decision of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff – Nigel Wright – to give Mr. Duffy $90,000 so that he could pay back expenses that were the subject of a forensic audit amounted to contempt of Parliament by the executive branch of government.
If successful, Mr. Cowan’s motion would have led to public hearings and Mr. Wright would likely have been called as a witness.
But Speaker Noël Kinsella ruled Tuesday that the Senate should wait and see how the internal economy process plays out.
“The committee is now responsible for reviewing the expenses and a range of related issues,” he said. “It would be best to wait for the results of that work to see if clarity can be brought to this grave situation, rather than starting a second, parallel process. That would risk further confusion.”
The Speaker noted that the internal economy committee has broad powers.
“For the good of the institution, and for the good of Parliament, the internal economy committee needs to consider carefully how it will undertake a thorough and careful review of all aspects of the situation,” he said. “The Rules of the Senate and parliamentary practice afford this committee the authority it needs to hear witnesses and to send for papers. The committee knows that honourable senators, and Canadians, will watch its work with great attention.”
Last week the Senate Speaker confirmed that he had provided documents to the RCMP upon request that outline the Senate's expenses rules. The Speaker said this was in relation to recent audits into the expenses of Mr. Duffy, Mr. Harb and Senator Patrick Brazeau.
The opposition has criticized the decision to refer Mr. Duffy's expenses back to the internal economy committee given that it is the same committee that is accused of "whitewashing" its final report into Mr. Duffy's expenses by removing language that was critical of the PEI Senator.
Neither Mr. Duffy nor Mr. Wright have explained the details around an arrangement that saw Mr. Wright secretly transfer $90,000 in personal funds to the Senator so that Mr. Duffy could repay all of his expenses during a forensic audit.
A CTV reporter tracked down Mr. Wright early Tuesday morning while he was jogging in downtown Ottawa. Mr. Wright said he is providing all of his answers to the federal Ethics Commissioner.
"I made some mistakes, I'm living with the consequences of those mistakes, but I believe I can account for my actions and I think that's the right forum for it," Mr. Wright told CTV.