Conservative senators are blocking Liberal efforts to hear the testimony of an auditor who is alleged to have intervened in a review of Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Liberals have moved that Michael Runia, a partner at Deloitte, be called before the Senate’s internal economy committee to explain why he placed a call in March to a colleague at his firm who was directly involved with the Duffy audit. They also want to know what transpired during that conversation to determine whether the audit was in any way compromised.
But Conservative senators argued Tuesday that any attempt to hear from Mr. Runia would interfere with a continuing RCMP investigation into Mr. Duffy and Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff.
When it became clear that the Conservatives would use their majority in the Red Chamber to defeat the motion, the Liberals asked that the vote be delayed until Wednesday to give senators time to reflect on the reasons for calling Mr. Runia. That prompted Claude Carignan, the leader of the government in the Senate, to accuse the Liberals of playing politics.
Three other Deloitte auditors, including Gary Timm, who was the recipient of Mr. Runia’s call, told the internal economy committee last week that the result of the audit was not affected by Mr. Runia’s actions, Mr. Carignan said.
“So we don’t need to go outside of that and try to see who knew who, who knew what and why, it’s not our matter,” Mr. Carignan told reporters. “It could be interesting perhaps for other persons, perhaps for the RCMP particularly, but it’s not our concern and I am a little disappointed to see the Liberals play these partisan games.”
The internal economy committee has heard that Mr. Runia made the call to Mr. Timm after speaking with Irving Gerstein, a Conservative senator and the fundraising chair of his party. RCMP documents suggest that Mr. Gerstein called Mr. Runia at the request of Mr. Wright, who was trying to work out a deal to have the Senate reimbursed for Mr. Duffy’s expenses. Mr. Wright ended up paying those expenses of more than $90,000 out of his own bank account.
Mr. Duffy has been suspended from the Senate without pay, as have Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, who also ran into trouble with their expense claims. All were appointed by Mr. Harper.
Several Conservative senators, including Mr. Carignan, rose in the Senate on Tuesday to oppose the Liberal motion, pointing out that, just a few weeks ago, the Liberals were arguing that the suspensions of Mr. Duffy, Mr. Brazeau and Ms. Wallin could interfere with the RCMP investigation.
But James Cowan, the Liberal Leader in the Senate, said the two situations are not comparable because Mr. Runia is not the subject of a police probe.
“Prime Minister Harper has been adamant in the other place that the only people in this affair who are under investigation by the RCMP are Nigel Wright and Senator Duffy,” Mr. Cowan said. “So why should the fact of the RCMP investigating Mr. Wright and Senator Duffy stop us from getting to the bottom of allegations involving Senator Gerstein and Michael Runia?”
The debate followed the announcement that David Braley, a Hamilton businessman who owns the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions, had resigned his Senate seat effective last Saturday. Mr. Braley, 72, was appointed as a Conservative senator in 2010.
Mr. Braley told The Globe and Mail that he quit to spend more time with his family. “My wife and I started discussing our future,” he said, “and we came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The controversy in the Senate was not the prime motivation for his departure, but the expenses scandal “is not very nice,” said Mr. Braley. “We’re all tar-and-feathered the same.”