Prime Minister Stephen Harper will watch the Throne Speech from inside the chamber that produced many of the problems his government now faces.
Senators and MPs will gather in the Senate chamber late Wednesday afternoon to hear Governor-General David Johnston outline the government’s priorities for the upcoming legislative session. But the speech, which is prepared by the government, is widely expected to make scant mention of the continuing controversy over some senators’ expense claims.
Three Harper appointees – Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau – are the subjects of an RCMP investigation after auditors uncovered problems with their expense claims. A fourth senator, former Liberal Mac Harb, is also under investigation by the RCMP. Mr. Harb retired from the Red Chamber in August.
The issue became particularly troubling for Mr. Harper after it was revealed that his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave Mr. Duffy $90,000 earlier this year to repay his disputed expense claims. Mr. Wright quit shortly after the revelation, but the move has tied the Prime Minister’s Office to the scandal and led to speculation over whether Mr. Harper knew of the secret payment before it became public.
One senior Conservative said any suggestion that the Throne Speech will “make news on the Senate” is false. The government has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on what powers it has for Senate reform, and what level of provincial consent is required to make major changes. The case is expected to guide the government’s next steps on reforming the Red Chamber.
The senators at the centre of the controversy have not been barred from attending the speech. A spokeswoman for the Senate said seats were assigned for all senators, but added that not all members have attended past throne speeches.
Requests for comment from Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau were not returned on Tuesday.
Senate accountability issues will likely continue to dog the government this fall, despite efforts to move beyond them. Canada’s Auditor-General was called in earlier this year to look at senators’ expenses in a wide-ranging review that could turn up additional spending problems.
A spokesman for Claude Carignan, the government leader in the Senate, said the senator was unavailable for an interview on Tuesday. “We are happy to be back in the chamber for the Speech from the Throne and for dealing with the government’s new legislative agenda,” spokesman Sebastien Gariepy wrote in an e-mail.
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