Senators will debate Tuesday whether Mike Duffy should be given a public hearing to explain how he came to secretly receive $90,000 from the top official in the Prime Minister’s Office and why he appears to have billed taxpayers while campaigning for the Conservative Party.
Mr. Duffy – the former Conservative Senator who now sits as an independent – has been invited to attend a Tuesday meeting of the Senate committee at the centre of the ongoing controversy over expenses.
The meeting is expected to be held in camera. But the main question will be whether to make the hearing public.
Mr. Duffy has said he has a story to tell. “I think Canadians have a right to know all the facts and I’m quite prepared … to give them the whole story,” Mr. Duffy told reporters Thursday, adding that there’s “no question” there should be some form of public hearing.
The full Senate voted to send Mr. Duffy’s expenses back to the internal economy committee, but it remains unclear what that further review will look like.
The opposition’s attention is largely focused on the role of Nigel Wright, who resigned this month as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff for giving $90,000 in personal funds to Mr. Duffy so that the senator could pay off expenses that were at the time the subject of a forensic audit. The audit was overseen by the internal economy committee. The Conservatives in charge of the committee are accused of “whitewashing” their final report by removing language that was more critical of Mr. Duffy.
The government argues questions involving Mr. Wright will be dealt with by the federal Ethics Commissioner.
Conservative Senate leaders have said the further committee review was triggered by media reports that Mr. Duffy may have “double-dipped,” by claiming Senate expenses on the same days as he was doing political work for the Conservative Party.
The Liberal Opposition in the Senate is demanding these new hearings be held in public. Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative Leader in the Senate, has indicated she would support public hearings but that the decision would be up to the committee itself. That means it is largely in the hands of the committee’s embattled Conservative chair, David Tkachuk.
Mr. Tkachuk was expected to be back in Ottawa Monday after missing last week while recovering from surgery. The senator could not be reached Monday. However, in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Thursday, Mr. Tkachuk said he has strong reservations about public hearings.
“There’s questions of process,” he said. “Sure it’s Mr. Duffy and he’s been pilloried in the paper, I feel … He hasn’t had his day in court, that’s for sure. I’m not that big about contributing to it by having an open meeting where I don’t think it’d be quite civil, actually.”
Over the weekend, Ms. LeBreton expressed confidence in Mr. Tkachuk and the ability of his committee to look more deeply at Mr. Duffy’s expenses. She also suggested that in the future, audits of individual senators could be expanded to apply automatically to the senators who claim the most expenses.
But Mr. Tkachuk is questioning whether the Senate could possibly launch another audit ever again. “I don’t know how we could possibly do an audit on a senator or a member of Parliament any more,” he said. “The process has been jeopardized, because meetings that people thought were in private, documents that were supposedly in private, have been leaked and therefore open to misinterpretation. It’s drive by shootings is what this is.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, Mr. Harper is expected to attend Question Period for the first time since the arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy was revealed.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair criticized Mr. Harper for travelling last week and for not being in the House on Monday.
“The excuses keep changing. That’s why it’s so important to have the Prime Minister himself answering questions,” he told reporters after Question Period. “That’s why it’s such a disappointment to all Canadians that he once again chose to hide instead of facing the music here in the House of Commons.”