The Conservative government is blocking attempts to call on key figures in the Senate spending scandal to explain their role in the audit of Mike Duffy’s expenses.
Conservative senators on Wednesday voted down a motion to ask for an explanation from Deloitte auditor Michael Runia, who sought confidential information about the Duffy audit allegedly at the request of Conservative senator and fundraising chief Irving Gerstein. Meanwhile, as chair of the banking committee, Mr. Gerstein himself unilaterally struck down a motion Wednesday that called on him to explain his own role, or step down as chair. He did neither.
The developments came as Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Mr. Gerstein during Question Period. RCMP allege Mr. Gerstein worked in close contact with Mr. Harper’s office in managing the Duffy ordeal.
“Most Conservative senators stood up there to support the continuing coverup. Why? What do they have to hide?” Liberal Senate Leader James Cowan said Wednesday evening, after the vote against calling in Mr. Runia.
Mr. Gerstein has routinely declined comment on the ordeal, but faced a resignation request earlier on Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate banking committee, which he chairs. Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette interrupted with what she called a “very serious” motion, citing Mr. Gerstine’s failure “to explain your involvement in the independent Senate audit.” She asked that he step down as chair, until he explains himself or the RCMP clear him of “any suspicion.”
After a lengthy pause, Mr. Gerstein said he was “quite surprised,” before concluding: “I am going to rule the motion out of order.”
RCMP say the Conservative Fund, which Mr. Gerstein leads, was initially going to pay $32,000 in Mr. Duffy’s expenses, and “Gerstein confirmed it would,” according to allegations in a section of a court document based on a police interview with Mr. Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright. Mr. Gerstein told RCMP he was only considering using the fund for the expenses.
On Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau asked Mr. Harper why, given the allegation Mr. Gerstein “offered Conservative donor money to a sitting legislator,” he had not been punished.
“Mr. Speaker, of course, the Senator denies that,” Mr. Harper replied, in his first direct Question Period reference to Mr. Gerstein since the RCMP document became public.
The RCMP document hasn’t been proven in court.