The Harper government was forced to put further distance between itself and Senator Mike Duffy after an e-mail surfaced suggesting the PEI politician, under fire for illegitimate expense claims, had lobbied for a cabinet post and more compensation given his role as a fundraising star for the Tories.
“Mr. Duffy has never held a cabinet position and has never been considered for cabinet,” Andrew MacDougall, director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said in a bluntly worded statement Thursday.
An e-mail obtained by the CBC appears to show that, in 2009, the recently appointed senator was pressing Tories for a cabinet post to earn more staff, a car and more “resources” to reflect his “expanded role in the party.” He was writing an unidentified party insider, the CBC said.
The effort suggested the former celebrity TV journalist felt the Conservatives owed him more because he had been recruited to work the fundraising circuit for the party and individual MPs and candidates.
He then asked if he should suggest “the [Conservative Party] fund hire my private company, and I use the cash to hire additional staff to assist with these gigs?”
According to the e-mail, he ran the idea by Senator Irving Gerstein, chair of the party’s fundraising fund, who laughed it off. Neither Mr. Duffy nor Mr. Gerstein returned requests for comment.
The PMO further said Thursday in its statement that Mr. Harper does not assign jobs in the Conservative Party. “The Prime Minister assigns cabinet positions and caucus roles, not party roles,” Mr. MacDougall said.
After Mr. Harper appointed him senator in late 2008, Mr. Duffy hit the road campaigning and fundraising for the party. He attended events in support of prominent Conservative politicians and appears to have billed expenses to the Senate while campaigning during the 2011 election.
Documents filed with Elections Canada also suggest he ended up billing some of his travel, such as flights, to the Conservative Party. He billed other expenses directly to riding campaigns, one of which said they’d never seen that kind of claim before.
Questions were raised about Mr. Duffy’s housing expenses this year. That led to Mr. Duffy repaying more than $90,000 – but only after receiving a cheque for that amount from Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Mr. Harper went further in denouncing Mr. Wright’s actions Thursday, saying he would have ordered his aide – who resigned May 19 – not to write the cheque if he had known about it beforehand. He continues to insist he was kept in the dark about the arrangement until news of it broke in the media.
“Yeah, look, very briefly, the facts in this case are clear. They’re absolutely clear. They’re not good, but they are clear and they are simple,” Mr. Harper said at an appearance with visiting Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. “Mr. Wright decided to use his own personal money to assist Mr. Duffy to reimburse the taxpayers of Canada. That’s what he decided to do, and he decided not to tell me until the 15 th of May, after speculation about the source of the funds appeared in the media. As soon as I learned that on the 15 th of May, I made that information public. Had I known before the 15 th of May, I would have made the information known earlier.And had I known about it before it happened, I would have said not to do it.”