The Prime Minister’s Office intervened directly in the Senate expense affair, pressing Mike Duffy into a plan to repay past expense claims and instructing the PEI senator on what he should say to the media, Mr. Duffy’s lawyer says.
In a news conference on Monday, Donald Bayne quoted from a series of e-mails that he said would help shed light on the controversy and the involvement of the PMO. He refused to produce any of the material, but called the information “the tip of the iceberg” of evidence.
The e-mails were part of a narrative presented by Mr. Bayne suggesting that the expense controversy began as a small dispute over the application of rules in the Red Chamber and escalated into a political scandal after the PMO became involved.
The issue has proved highly damaging for the Conservative government, which came into power promising to reform the Senate but spent much of the last year defending itself against problems involving three of Stephen Harper’s appointees.
Two of those senators have made it clear that they intend to fight back against recent efforts to push them to the sidelines. Both Senator Pamela Wallin and Mr. Duffy, two former media stars who have since become embroiled in controversy, are considering legal action against proposed Senate motions to suspend them from the Red Chamber, according to their lawyers.
On Monday, Mr. Bayne told reporters that the $90,000 Mr. Duffy received from the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, was part of a deal developed by the PMO and pushed on Mr. Duffy “for political reasons.”
“It’s a scenario, in Nigel Wright’s own words, that was created for Senator Duffy, not because he had anything to hide or had made inappropriate claims, but because the PMO had decided they wanted to sweep a political embarrassment to their Tory base under the rug,” Mr. Bayne said.
Last December, when questions about senators’ living expenses began to surface in Ottawa, Mr. Wright informed Mr. Duffy that he had been told the senator was in compliance with the rules, Mr. Bayne said. Mr. Wright added that there would be several other senators “with similar arrangements,” the lawyer said, quoting from an e-mail Mr. Wright allegedly sent to Mr. Duffy.
Two months later, Mr. Wright told Mr. Duffy in a phone call that the senator would be provided with money to repay the expenses in question, along with a “scenario” and media lines, according to Mr. Bayne. If Mr. Duffy did not go along with the plan, Mr. Wright allegedly suggested that a Senate committee could find him ineligible to sit as a Prince Edward Island senator.
“The threat is, if you don’t go along with this, we’ll boot you out of the Senate,” Mr. Bayne said. He said the information came from an e-mail Mr. Duffy sent to his previous lawyer outlining a phone conversation with Mr. Wright.
In Question Period on Monday, Mr. Harper attempted to distance himself from the allegations, on several occasions referencing the unrelated recent trade deal with the European Union during responses to opposition questions concerning Mr. Duffy’s expenses. A spokesman for Mr. Harper wrote in an e-mail on Monday that the issue was handled by Mr. Wright “and he has taken sole responsibility,” and said the PMO is assisting with ongoing investigations into the matter.
Mr. Duffy is considering legal action over a planned motion to suspend him from the Senate for “gross negligence” in managing parliamentary resources, his lawyer said. Ms. Wallin and former Conservative Patrick Brazeau face similar motions.
The debate over the Conservative motions, which could begin as early as Tuesday, creates a moral dilemma for some senators. While the suspensions could ease scrutiny of the Red Chamber, which has been intense over the past year, several senators have expressed concern that the proposed suspensions are too severe and won’t give the senators due process.
Mr. Duffy is under investigation by the RCMP in relation to allegations of fraud and breach of trust. His expense problems relate to housing claims he made for a secondary residence in the Ottawa area, despite evidence that he spent more of his time in Ottawa than at his PEI residence.