The number of Conservatives who were aware of the cheque written by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff to cover the improper expense claims of Senator Mike Duffy cannot be counted on one hand. Mr. Harper is steadfast in his insistence that he was unaware of the deal that saw about $90,000 transferred from the personal account of Nigel Wright for Mr. Duffy.
Through Mr. Duffy’s allegations in the Senate over two weeks, and with the help of RCMP documents that were filed in court during the summer, The Globe has pieced together a list of 11 players who knew – or might have known – what was going on.
1. MIKE DUFFY
Mike Duffy knows how to tell a tale, especially when it is about himself.
In two separate sessions, this week and last, the former broadcaster, who has been a senator from Prince Edward Island since 2009, kept the Senate riveted with his version of the story of the $90,000 cheque written by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright to cover Mr. Duffy’s questionable claims for living expenses.
Mr. Duffy made it clear that, without ultimatums and threats from the Prime Minister’s Office, he never would have returned to the Senate the money he had claimed for living in Ottawa, where he has made his home since 1971.
“I said I didn’t believe I’d broken the rules and that to repay would be an admission of guilt,” he told senators last week. “Canadians know me as an honest guy. To pay back money I didn’t owe would destroy my reputation.”
Mr. Duffy is now at the centre of an RCMP investigation into his expense claims and is fighting his suspension from the Senate – a move being orchestrated by his former Conservative colleagues.
He said he was given the green light by the Senate to claim that his principal residence was in Prince Edward Island, even though he spent most of his time in Ottawa.
To back that claim, he tabled a document from one of the Senate’s constitutional experts, dated shortly after Mr. Duffy’s appointment, that says: “The Senate has never disqualified anyone for not being a ‘resident’ of their province of appointment, providing they own property there.”
The document did not actually give him approval to claim the out-of-town expenses. But an e-mail from Mr. Wright, dated last December as reporters were beginning to question the payments, does say Mr. Duffy “complied with all the applicable rules.”
Then there is the matter of his travel claims.
There were times during the 2011 federal election campaign when Mr. Duffy claimed travel costs that were reimbursed by the Senate even though he was appearing at campaign events for the Conservatives. According to police, he claimed per diems for dates that he said he was in Ottawa when he was not and submitted expense claims for being in Ottawa on Senate business on days when he was actually in Florida or elsewhere.
All of this led Corporal Greg Horton of the RCMP to state in a court document he filed asking for the Senate to produce a list of documents to be used as evidence: “I believe Senator Duffy has demonstrated a pattern of filing fraudulent expense claims.”
Mr. Duffy dismisses the problems with his travel expenses as insignificant. In a speech to the Senate this week, he explained that during the first 4 1/2 years he spent in public office, he filed 215 claims and, in the end, had overcharged taxpayers just $437.35 – an average of $2.03 per claim.
All of the complaints against him, he said, are the result of a conspiracy concocted in the Prime Minister’s Office because he had become a liability.
“Why,” he asked, “am I, a senator [the PMO] agreed had followed their rules, and who foolishly played along with their nefarious plan, why am I being subjected to this unprecedented and arbitrary process of being suspended from the Senate?”
2. NIGEL WRIGHT
Former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Nigel Wright is the former Bay Street deal maker and managing director of Onex Corp. who, when he was the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, wrote a personal cheque for more than $90,000 to cover disputed living expenses claimed by Senator Mike Duffy.
That act, which Mr. Wright’s lawyers have told police was done in the belief that “it was the proper, ethical decision that taxpayers not be out that amount of money,” cost him his job and left him bearing the brunt of the blame from Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the spending scandal that continues to reverberate through Parliament.
Mr. Wright’s problems began on Dec. 3, 2012, when he was contacted by Mr. Duffy. The senator was agitated after news reports alleged there were improprieties with the out-of-town residence expenses he had been claiming.
Mr. Wright e-mailed Mr. Duffy a day later, saying: “I am told that you have complied with all the applicable rules and that there would be several senators with similar arrangements.”
But, as the media circled closer, it became impossible to let the matter slide.
According to Mr. Duffy, Mr. Wright told him at a meeting on Feb. 11 at Mr. Wright’s office in the Langevin Block that he would have to repay the money. Two days later, after a caucus meeting, Mr. Duffy said Mr. Wright was present when Mr. Harper also demanded that the money be repaid.
Mr. Duffy said Mr. Wright later called him at his home in PEI to say senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, who were on the three-person steering subcommittee of the Senate’s committee on internal economy, were going to issue a press release saying he was unqualified to sit in the Senate unless he repaid the money. If the cash was returned, Mr. Wright promised, he would “keep Carolyn Stewart-Olsen and David Tkachuk at bay.”
Mr. Duffy said he did not have the money and was worried about the perception of guilt that any repayment would engender.
But Mr. Wright had a plan, according to Mr. Duffy. “ ‘Don’t worry, I will write the cheque,’ ” the senator quotes Mr. Wright as saying. The money was repaid in March.
Mr. Duffy told reporters he took out a loan from the Royal Bank to cover it. This week, however, he told the Senate that the tale of the loan “was a line written by the PMO to deceive Canadians.” He did not specify who in the Prime Minister’s Office had purportedly concocted the ruse.
On May 15, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Mr. Wright had repaid the money for Mr. Duffy. “Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could pay the outstanding amount,” Mr. Harper’s communications director said in an e-mail.
On May 19, Mr. Harper said he had accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation.
This week, however, Mr. Harper said he had actually dismissed his former aide. “On our side there is one person responsible for this deception and that person is Mr. Wright. It is Mr. Wright by his own admission,” the Prime Minister told Question Period.
Mr. Wright is keeping a low profile. Since his resignation/dismissal, he has not spoken publicly about the affair.
3. BENJAMIN PERRIN
Former legal adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Mr. Perrin is one of two lawyers from the Prime Minister’s Office who Mr. Duffy alleges brokered the deal that led to Mr. Wright repaying Mr. Duffy’s expenses. He did not name the second one.
Mr. Duffy told the Senate this week that e-mails between Mr. Perrin, Conservative Party lawyer Arthur Hamilton and his own lawyer show that the repayment scheme was concocted in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr. Perrin issued a statement in May saying a news report linking him to the repayment of the $90,000 was false. “I was not consulted on, and did not participate in, Nigel Wright’s decision to write a personal cheque to reimburse Senator Duffy’s expenses,” Mr. Perrin said.
Mr. Perrin is now an associate professor of law at the University of British Columbia.
4. RAY NOVAK
Former principal secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Ray Novak was on the telephone in May with Majory LeBreton, then the leader of the government in the Senate, when she told Mr. Duffy that he would have to resign from the Conservative caucus over his questionable expense claims or face possible expulsion from the Senate.
Mr. Novak has since been promoted to the position of chief of staff to Mr. Harper.
5. DAVID VAN HEMMEN
Former assistant to Nigel Wright, then chief of staff
Mr. Van Hemmen is listed in court documents as being one of four people that Nigel Wright told of his plans to repay Mike Duffy’s disputed expenses.
Mr. Van Hemmen is now a policy adviser in the office of the Minister of State for Finance.
6. CHRIS WOODCOCK
Former director of issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office
Court documents say Mr. Woodcock was one of four people that Nigel Wright told about his plan to repay Mike Duffy’s disputed expenses.
Mr. Woodcock is chief of staff for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
7. IRVING GERSTEIN
Senator and chair of the Conservative Fund Canada
Mr. Gerstein, a long-time Conservative fundraiser, was appointed to the Senate on the same day in 2009 as Mike Duffy.
Police documents suggest Mr. Gerstein was aware of the moves afoot to help his caucus mate out of the financial jam – even as Mr. Duffy rebuffed demands from the Prime Minister’s Office that he reimburse questionable living-expense claims.
“The Conservative Party was initially going to repay the money for Duffy, from a Conservative fund, when it was believed the amount he owed was approximately $32,000. The fund is controlled by Senator Gerstein,” the RCMP said in the court documents, citing discussions with Peter Mantas and Patrick McCann, lawyers for Mr. Wright.
“When it was realized that the cost was actually $90,000, it was too much money to ask the Conservative Party to cover,” the RCMP said. “Wright then offered to cover the cost for Duffy, believing it was the proper, ethical decision that taxpayers not be out that amount of money.”
The documents list Mr. Gerstein as one of four people who were told by Mr. Wright of his plan to cover Mr. Duffy’s expenses.
8. ARTHUR HAMILTON
Lawyer for the Conservative Party
Mr. Hamilton is one of the lawyers Mr. Duffy alleges was at the centre of the negotiations around Mr. Wright’s payment of the senator’s disputed expenses.
Mr. Duffy told the Senate a week ago that Mr. Wright told him he would personally write the cheque for more than $90,000 and “let the lawyers handle the details.” One of those lawyers, he said, was working for the Conservative Party of Canada.
Mr. Duffy also tabled in the Senate this week a copy of a cheque for $13,500, dated April 3, from the Conservative Party to Mr. Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne. Along with the cheque was a memo from Mr. Hamilton to Ms. Payne saying the funds represented payment of her invoice.
“That’s right,” Mr. Duffy told the Senate. “The PMO had the Conservative Party’s lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, pay for my lawyer.”
9. MARJORY LEBRETON
Senator and former leader of the government in the Senate
Ms. LeBreton has said Mr. Duffy’s version of events is not based on fact and raises questions as to “what he was talking about or what on earth he was thinking.”
Mr. Duffy, for his part, has cast Ms. LeBreton in a supporting role in the scheme that resulted in the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff paying $90,000 to repay the disputed expenses.
Mr. Duffy said there was an agreement with the leadership of the Senate – by which he presumably means Ms. LeBreton – that his expenses would not be audited if he agreed with the repayment plan being demanded by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr. Duffy also said he was told that, should the repayment scheme become public, Ms. LeBreton would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent his expulsion from the Senate.
Ms. LeBreton counters that this is false. “Not one single person ever suggested to me that this be done. Never did I hear of such a scheme,” she told the Senate.
She does agree that she called Mr. Duffy in May to demand his resignation after details of the arrangement began to leak to the media.
As a result of those leaks, Mr. Duffy said Ms. LeBreton told him “the deal was off” and, if he did not quit the caucus immediately, the Senate ethics committee would be ordered to expel him from the Senate.
For her part, Ms. LeBreton says she replied, “What deal?” when Mr. Duffy asked if the deal was no longer on the table.
Ms. LeBreton resigned as leader of the government in the Senate in July. She since has been named to sit on the Senate’s committee on internal economy.
10-11. DAVID TKACHUK AND CAROLYN STEWART-OLSEN
Senators and former members of a three-person subcommittee of the Senate’s committee on internal economy
Mike Duffy said he was told last February by Nigel Wright, then the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, that if he did not repay the living expenses he owed, Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart-Olsen would issue a press release declaring that he was unfit to sit in the Senate.
On the other hand, Mr. Duffy told the Senate last week, if he went along with a plan to have Mr. Wright repay his expenses, Mr. Wright said he would keep Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart-Olsen “at bay.”
The money was repaid. And the threatened press release never materialized.
Mr. Duffy also said that, despite an agreement with “Senate leadership” that his expenses would not be audited if he went along with the repayment scheme, Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart-Olsen, as part of the subcommittee of the committee on internal economy, sent his file to Deloitte for examination.
But they also displayed some leniency toward the senator from PEI as he was becoming increasingly embroiled in the spending scandal.
George Furey, a Liberal senator who is the third member of the subcommittee, told police that on May 8 Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart-Olsen revised an audit of Mr. Duffy’s expenses to remove two of three criticisms – revisions that were not made to the auditor’s reports about other senators whose expenses were under investigation.
Mr. Furey said he did not agree with those amendments, which were made in the week before details of the $90,000 payment made by Mr. Wright on behalf of Mr. Duffy began to filter out.
Mr. Tkachuk resigned in June as chair of the committee on internal economy to undergo preventative treatment for bladder cancer.
Ms. Stewart-Olsen has also resigned from the committee. She was recently accused of wrongly claiming more than $4,000 for her own accommodation and meal expenses.