The Senate has asked the RCMP to investigate expenses claimed by Mike Duffy – and to look into the $90,000 payment he received from the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff – after a review found a pattern of questionable expenses claimed by the PEI senator.
Senate finance officials revealed information showing that Mr. Duffy attempted to claim 18 days of per diems for working in Ottawa during the Senate’s summer recess even though other records clearly showed the senator was in Prince Edward Island.
The revelations mark a new chapter in the probe of Mr. Duffy’s expenses and capped an extraordinary day in Ottawa. The House of Commons resembled a courtroom interrogation Tuesday as Prime Minister Stephen Harper fended off dozens of questions from opposition leaders. All the while, Mr. Harper said the matter was between former chief of staff Nigel Wright and Mr. Duffy. Pressed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on whether he would testify in a full public inquiry, the Prime Minister brought up controversial remarks by Mr. Trudeau on the composition of the Senate.
The review also found that Mr. Duffy made claims for Senate work while campaigning for the Conservative Party during the 2011 election.
After more than an hour of debate Tuesday evening, Conservative and Liberal senators on the internal economy committee voted unanimously to approve a report calling in the RCMP.
The Conservatives also agreed to a Liberal amendment to the motion, which made clear that the reference to the police includes “Senator Duffy’s repayment of $90,000 to the Government of Canada.”
That amendment means the RCMP is being asked to look at why Mr. Wright secretly gave Mr. Duffy $90,172 on March 25. The payment allowed the senator to pay back all of his expenses in the midst of a Senate-authorized forensic audit.
Tuesday’s vote marked a change of course for the Conservative-dominated Senate, which until this week had resisted opposition calls to call in the police.
The referral came after Mr. Harper faced his first grilling in the Commons over the Senate expenses scandal since news of Mr. Wright’s transaction with Mr. Duffy first broke.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau peppered the Prime Minister with more than 20 questions, forgoing the normal theatrics of Question Period to pose simple, focused queries about his office’s role in the controversy.
The Prime Minister steadfastly stuck to his story that his top aide acted alone in drawing on his personal fortune to make Mr. Duffy’s reimbursement debt go away.
During a rare public meeting of the Senate internal economy committee, officials said they recently took a second look at Mr. Duffy’s expense claims and contrasted them with this month’s audit by Deloitte, which attempted to track Mr. Duffy’s whereabouts over a two-year period.
That process identified 49 days in which Mr. Duffy claimed per diems in Ottawa even though the Deloitte review – using cellphone records and other sources – found the senator was elsewhere.
“The review leads to a conclusion that the Deloitte finding in relation to per diems claimed in January, 2012, when the senator was in Florida is not an isolated incident, but represents a pattern that raises concerns,” Senate finance officials reported to the committee.
Both Conservative and Liberal senators immediately agreed that the expenses should be referred to the RCMP. However, there was debate over whether the reference should explicitly urge the police to also examine the role played by Mr. Wright.
Mr. Duffy was invited to attend the Tuesday evening hearing but did not make an appearance. He had told reporters last week that he would like a public forum to tell his version of events.
Last week the Senate Speaker confirmed that he had provided documents to the RCMP upon request that outline the Senate’s expenses rules. The Speaker said this was in relation to recent audits into the expenses of Mr. Duffy, and Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau.
The opposition has criticized the decision to refer Mr. Duffy’s expenses back to the internal economy committee given that it is the same committee that is accused of “whitewashing” its final report into Mr. Duffy’s expenses by removing language that was critical of him.
On Tuesday, the committee voted to return some lines of the report that had previously been removed.
Earlier in the day, questions were put to the Conservative committee chair, David Tkachuk, about his role in writing the report and his interactions with Mr. Wright.
“The advice that I asked for [from Mr. Wright] was in general terms. I received no advice that told me what had to be said in the report,” he said. “It was not whitewashed.”
Neither Mr. Duffy nor Mr. Wright has explained the details around an arrangement in which Mr. Wright secretly transferred $90,000 in personal funds to the senator so that Mr. Duffy could repay all of his expenses during a forensic audit.
A CTV reporter tracked down Mr. Wright early Tuesday morning while he was jogging in downtown Ottawa. Mr. Wright said he is providing all his answers to the federal Ethics Commissioner.
“I made some mistakes, I’m living with the consequences of those mistakes, but I believe I can account for my actions and I think that’s the right forum for it,” Mr. Wright told CTV.