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Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends a pre-Grey Cup event in Regina on Nov. 24, 2013. His spokesman, Jason MacDonald, spent Sunday laying out the PM’s version of events in the Senate expenses scandal. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends a pre-Grey Cup event in Regina on Nov. 24, 2013. His spokesman, Jason MacDonald, spent Sunday laying out the PM’s version of events in the Senate expenses scandal. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberals press Harper to explain payment to Duffy under oath Add to ...

The Liberals are asking Parliament to call Prime Minister Stephen Harper to explain what he knew about the payment his former chief of staff made to repay the questionable living expenses of disgraced Senator Mike Duffy.

But on the day after the third-party Liberals significantly increased their average vote share in four by-elections and nearly defeated the Conservatives in a Manitoba riding they have held for most of the past 50 years, the Tories were more interested in talking about Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s attendance record than the Senate scandal.

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Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc used an opposition day to move that “the House call upon the Prime Minister to explain in detail to Canadians, under oath, what [former chief of staff] Nigel Wright or any other member of his staff, or any other Conservative, told him at any time about any aspect of any possible arrangement pertaining to Mike Duffy, what he did about it, and when.”

The Conservatives will use their majority in the House to ensure that the motion fails, but it is part of opposition attempts to draw the scandal closer to Mr. Harper. The RCMP are investigating allegations of fraud, bribery and breach of trust over the $90,000 cheque Mr. Wright gave to repay the residency allowance claimed improperly by Mr. Duffy.

Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, who has been the government’s point man on the issue, responded to the questions.

Mr. Calandra pointed out that Mr. Wright has said he did not tell Mr. Harper about the transaction, but then he focused on how much time Mr. Trudeau has spent asking questions about the matter – to the point of praising the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the Official Opposition.

“It seems that it is not important enough for the Liberal leader to come to the House and talk about these issues. It is not important enough for him to come and ask the questions that he deems to be the most important questions of the day,” the Conservative MP said.

Mr. Mulcair “shows up in the House and asks the questions every single day,” Mr. Calandra said. “Every single day, the Leader of the Opposition asks questions because he says it’s a priority.”

When the Liberals tried to table a list of all of the questions that Mr. Trudeau has asked about the payment, the Conservatives would not permit it.

Mr. Harper has said he knew nothing of the payment made in March until news reports divulged it two months later.

Mr. Trudeau asked during Question Period about the involvement of Senator Irving Gerstein, the Conservative Party’s chief fundraiser. But Mr. Harper was adamant that wrongdoing was limited to Mr. Wright, Mr. Duffy and three other senators – Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb – who were found to have claimed inappropriate expenses.

“There are two individuals who are under investigation, and there are a number of senators who broke rules or who disregarded rules,” Mr. Harper told the House. “Those senators have been dealt with harshly by the Senate of Canada, by the Conservative senators in the Senate of Canada.”

RCMP documents suggest Mr. Gerstein offered to pay Mr. Duffy’s expenses from Conservative Party funds until he found out exactly how much was owed. They also suggest he tried to influence the outcome of an audit of Mr. Duffy’s expenses at the request of Mr. Wright.

Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau, all appointed by Mr. Harper, have been suspended without pay. Mr. Harb, a Liberal, has resigned from the Senate.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told the House that Canadians deserve an inquiry into the matter.

“We all want to know what on Earth was going on within the Prime Minister’s Office,” Ms. May said. “What does Mr. Duffy have in his particular skill set, or other bits of knowledge, that required the vast machinations of the PMO working in concert with Conservative senators to pull off a massive ‘deception,’ in the words of the Prime Minister?”

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