Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried Tuesday morning to contain the fallout from the Senate expenses scandal that has rocked his administration, using a public speech to his caucus to say he was disappointed and upset about the conduct of some Senators and his office.
Mr. Harper gave no further details about his knowledge of the $90,000 cheque that was given by his former chief of staff Nigel Wright to Senator Mike Duffy, and which has rocked the Conservative government.
However, Mr. Harper sent a clear message that he is unhappy with the situation and that any Conservative MPs and senators who want to use their status for their own benefit should “leave this room.”
“I dont think any of you are going to be surprised to hear I’m not happy – I’m very upset,” Mr. Harper said, pointing to the actions of senators, but also the Prime Minister’s Office. “I know that like me and my family, you are scrupulous about paying personal expenses yourself.”
Mr. Harper told Conservative senators to ensure that new reporting standards for their expenses are adopted as soon as possible, offering his full support to his lead minister on the file, Senator Marjory LeBreton. “Get that done,” Mr. Harper told the Conservative senators in the room.
The Prime Minister also used the speech in the Commons Centre block reading room to try to distance himself and his party from the scandal, saying that he wants to move on Senate reform.
Mr. Harper blamed the NDP and the Liberal Party for the lack of action on that file, but his legislation on Senate reform – concerning term limits and election of senators, and now the subject of a Supreme Court reference – has made little headway even since he won a majority in 2011.
“The Senate status quo is not acceptable. Canadians want the Senate to change,” Mr. Harper said.
Mr. Harper provided no information to the public about the details of the deal between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright, and gave no sense that he is contemplating a new independent investigation into the matter.
The Conservatives are putting pressure on Mr. Duffy – whohas already quit the party’s caucus - to resign his Senate seat.
“Anybody who comes to Ottawa who doesn’t respect taxpayers’dollars should leave,” Heritage Minister James Moore told reporters.