A transcript of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s replies to questions about the Senate expenses scandal during a news conference Wednesday in Lima with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala Tasso:
Question from reporter: My question is about the resignation statement of your former chief of staff, which indicated that he merely did not tell you the means by which Senator Mike Duffy got his money and, to date, neither he nor you have denied that you did know there was a deal. My question first is, what exactly did you know about the deal? Second, what were the terms of that deal? And third, what does it say about your leadership that your senior staff could even imagine this was ethical?
Mr. Harper: Just to correct that, I think we’ve been very clear that I did not know, but let me be very specific about this. I learned of this after stories appeared in the media last week speculating on the source of Mr. Duffy’s repayments.
Immediately upon learning that the source was indeed my chief of staff, Nigel Wright, I immediately asked that that information be released publicly. That is what I knew.
I think what’s more important about this is that, not simply that I did not know, but that I was not consulted. I was not asked to sign off on any such thing and had I obviously been consulted or known, I would not have agreed with it.
And it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation.
My belief, I should mention, my belief, of course, prior to all this was that Mr. Duffy had repaid. When I heard that Mr. Duffy had repaid, my assumption was that Mr. Duffy had repaid from his own resources and that’s how it should have been, in my judgment.
Question from reporter: You’re known for running a very tight ship in government. How do you expect Canadians to believe that you knew nothing about the cheque that was written to Sen. Duffy? And what in particular do you plan to do? What actions in particular do you plan to take to address this scandal? Could there be further resignations?
Mr. Harper: Look, I think my belief here was reasonable, what, I think, anybody would have expected, that when it was said that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses, that indeed he, and not someone else, had repaid his expenses. I know Mr. Wright assisted him or did this for him, because he wanted to see the taxpayers reimbursed. That’s the right motive, but nevertheless it was obviously not correct for that decision to be made and executed without my knowledge or without public transparency.
That is why, as I say, I have accepted the resignation of my chief of staff. As you know we’ve had a couple of senators also leave our caucus. My point is on this that there is accountability when things like this happen. We’ve also put in place the various authorities and mechanisms that will further look into these matters to see if any additional action has to be taken on any particular individuals.
I can assure you that we will certainly look at our systems, see what we have to do to better manage or, better yet, prevent any of these kinds of things in the future. Obviously, I am very sorry that this has occurred. I am not only sorry, I’ve been through the range of emotions. I’m sorry, I’m frustrated, I’m extremely angry about it. But that is the reality and I think we’ve dealt with it promptly.
I’m frustrated and sorry and angry about all of this. I don’t think there’s any better way to put it. In terms of my own office, it was Mr. Wright’s money, it was his personal money that he was repaying to the taxpayers on behalf of Mr. Duffy, it was his personal decision and he did this is his capacity as chief of staff, so he is solely responsible and that is why he has resigned.