Two prominent Conservative senators are denying any knowledge of a pact between Nigel Wright and Senator Mike Duffy after a CTV report suggested they knew about the plan.
The development comes as provinces and territories prepare to file submissions this week to the Supreme Court on the fate of the Senate, with three now publicly calling for abolition.
Senators Carolyn Stewart Olsen and David Tkachuk have maintained they didn't know that Mr. Wright, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, wrote a cheque to Mr. Duffy to cover living expenses the senator had been ordered to repay.
"I deny that I knew anything about Nigel Wright paying Mike Duffy $90,000," Ms. Stewart Olsen told The Globe and Mail Tuesday, adding she also didn't know of any other payment to the senator. "I never even gave a second thought to where the money came from [when Mr. Duffy repaid it]. I just thought it was from Senator Duffy."
A CTV report Monday evening alleged Mr. Wright spoke with Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart Olsen about the deal with Mr. Duffy. The report also said Mr. Tkachuk threatened Mr. Duffy with being expelled from the Senate, based on residency rules, if he didn't pay the money back. Mr. Tkachuk called the report "a complete fabrication."
It remains unclear just who knew about the Wright-Duffy pact. According to an affidavit, the RCMP believe Mr. Wright and three others in the PMO were aware of the pact. Mr. Harper has sought to distance himself from the Duffy ordeal by repeatedly saying Mr. Wright acted alone. "Those were his decisions," Mr. Harper said during Question Period on June 5. "This was not a decision of the office, it was a decision of Mr. Wright," he added a month later in Calgary.
The CTV report raises the question of whether others knew, and revealed that Mr. Harper's former communications director, Angelo Persichilli, spoke to the senator. Mr. Persichilli said Tuesday he called Mr. Duffy only "as a friend" to urge him to repay his expense claims, though he insists he knew nothing about the deal with Mr. Wright. He was not serving as director of communications at the time.
"I didn't know anything about the deal. I said if you misunderstood what was there [in the rules], pay the money back. And that was all," Mr. Persichilli said in an interview Tuesday.
The Duffy case has been referred to the RCMP. The senator declined to comment on the CTV report, but said in a statement he believes authorities will eventually find "that my expense claims do not merit criticism."
Ms. Stewart Olsen and Mr. Tkachuk have regularly acknowledged speaking with Mr. Wright about the Duffy ordeal, including the ongoing audit, but say none of those conversations included any mention of a payment to the senator.
Mr. Tkachuk and Ms. Stewart Olsen had previously been revealed to have softened the language of the Senate report about Mr. Duffy's expenses , with a draft version containing passages that would have cast Mr. Duffy in a more negative light . That left opposition critics wary of their explanations Tuesday.
"I think they really need to prove to Canadians they weren't involved in this, because this would certainly blow this issue sky-high in terms of a conspiracy to protect the Prime Minister and mislead Canadians," NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said.
Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said Ms. Stewart Olsen "obviously has an interest in minimizing her involvement" and has already "failed to be transparent and provide fulsome answers with respect to the whitewashing."
The federal government has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on what it would take to change or abolish the Senate. The Manitoba government announced Tuesday it had submitted its argument to the Supreme Court, calling for abolition. It's a fate Manitoba believes would need unanimous consent of all the provinces.
"The Senate's time is up. It's time for us to move forward," Manitoba Attorney-General and Justice Minister Andrew Swan said in an interview, noting the province has long supported abolition. It's a position buoyed by the recent controversies. "With all of the shenanigans of senators, I think you'd have a hard time finding many Manitobans who support retaining this outdated, outmoded, anti-democratic institution," he said.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter have also called for Senate abolition. Many provinces and territories are expected to submit arguments to the Supreme Court before the deadline Friday.