Senate Scandal – Prime Minister under fire

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Prime Minister Harper
Prime Minister Harper

Senate of Canada
Senate of Canada Chamber

OTTAWA – Editorial  Commentary – An increasingly flustered looking Prime Minister remained under fire throughout Question Period today in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was feeling the heat from New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

The questioning focused on the Senate Scandal, and the payment of $90,000 to Senator Mike Duffy by the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff Nigel Wright

Leading off Question Period, the New Democrat leader was like a crown attorrney. Mulcair asked short simple questions. The NDP leader was building momentum in his grilling of the Prime Minister.

Justin Trudeau was also on his game. Trudeau’s questions were more lofty perhaps than Mulcair, but they too were hitting the mark. 

You can tell when the Prime Minister is getting flustered, Mr. Harper actually misspoke on one of his answers resulting in catcalls from the opposition. 

Question Period on Senate Scandal

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, on what date and at what time was the Prime Minister informed that Nigel Wright had made a payment to Conservative Senator Mike Duffy?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, I have been very clear on this question. This matter came to my attention two weeks ago, after speculation appeared in the media.

    On Wednesday, May 15, I was told about it. At that very moment, I demanded that my office ensure that the public was informed, and it was informed appropriately.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, when did the Prime Minister first speak with Nigel Wright about Mike Duffy’s expenses?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, as I have said repeatedly, my first knowledge of this was on the date and at the time indicated.

    Prior to that point in time, it was my understanding that Mr. Duffy had paid back his own expenses.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, the question was when did the Prime Minister first speak with Nigel Wright about Mike Duffy’s expenses, and how many times did he speak with Nigel Wright in the week preceding his resignation?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, if the leader of the NDP is suggesting I had any information to the contrary from Mr. Wright prior to this, that is completely false. I learned of this on May 15 and immediately made this information public, as I have said many times.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, we are asking very simple, straightforward questions and the Prime Minister is not answering them. That is the problem. Canadians want answers.

     What instructions did the Prime Minister give to Nigel Wright or other people in his office to solve the problem of Conservative Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, I did not give any such instructions. It was my opinion that Mr. Duffy was to pay his own expenses, and that is what I believed until May 15.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Then what changed, Mr. Speaker, between the time the Prime Minister expressed his total, absolute support of Nigel Wright and the moment he accepted his resignation just three days later? What changed?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, Mr. Wright accepted full responsibility for his error in this matter. He offered his resignation, and I accepted that resignation.

    As we know, he will be subject to an examination by the Ethics Commissioner, and that is the accountability mechanism we have put in place for these kinds of things.
Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.):  

    Mr. Speaker, as the country now knows, the Prime Minister’s closest adviser secretly paid $90,000 to a sitting legislator to obstruct an audit.

    Will the Prime Minister commit to releasing all records, emails, documents, correspondence and other material relating to any arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy?
 
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, the arrangement in question that the leader speaks to was, of course, between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. It is a matter of examination by the ethics commissioners in each chamber of this Parliament, and obviously, should we be asked to produce any kind of information, we would be happy to do so.

Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, we are asking for that information.

     I will try again.
     Is the Prime Minister going to release all the documents, including emails and correspondence, relating to the arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy? Is the Prime Minister going to show the public a copy of the cheque made out by Mr. Wright to Mr. Duffy?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, once more, this was an arrangement between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. I am expecting the ethics commissioners in each house of Parliament to look into these questions.

Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, these are questions to which Canadians have been asking for answers, and they deserve those answers directly from thePrime Minister.

    Will the Prime Minister commit to having everyone involved in this affair, including himself, testify about their involvement, in a public forum under oath?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, the facts here are very straightforward. This is a matter between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. It is the subject of an examination by the ethics commissioners in both houses of Parliament.

    What I think Canadians are completely bewildered about is why the leader of the Liberal Party thinks now is an appropriate time to try to pit one region against another region over the question of Senate reform.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps referring us back to the whitewashed report of the Senate. Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen is his former press secretary. Did he or did he not ever have any conversations with his former press secretary, Carolyn Stewart Olsen, concerning this affair in the Senate?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, no, I did not, but it is very clear the Senate committee itself has answered those questions. It is the author of its own report. That report mirrors the recommendations of an independent audit conducted on behalf of the Senate; and the government, as a matter of fact, agrees with the recommendations in those reports, which are that the expenses in question are inappropriate and amounts such as that must be repaid to the taxpayers of Canada.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, did the Prime Minister ever discuss this matter in cabinet?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, the Senate committee has been very clear. It made its own report on these matters. The government’s position is also extremely well known. When people claim expenditures they never actually incurred, these are inappropriate and must be repaid to the taxpayers.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister keeps trying to convince Canadians that he is being straightforward. That was a very straightforward and simple question. Did he ever discuss this matter in cabinet?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, the Senate committee report is a Senate committee report. It is not a matter of government or cabinet business. That is plainly obvious. 

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, when did the Prime Minister learn that an agreement had been made with Conservative Senator Mike Duffy? This time we are asking about the agreement, not the payment.

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, once again, it was the same date.

     On Wednesday, May 15, Mr. Wright told me that he had given a personal cheque to Mr. Duffy so that he could reimburse the taxpayers.
     Until that moment, I thought that Mr. Duffy had paid his own expenses.

 Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, who in the Prime Minister’s Office spoke with Mr. Duffy about withholding information from auditors or others investigating this matter?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, I have no information to that effect. Obviously, as I have said repeatedly, the arrangements between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright are a matter of inquiry of the ethics commissioners of both houses of this Parliament, and we will provide any support necessary in those examinations.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, Mike Duffy wrote in an email that after being paid $90,000, he “stayed silent on the orders of the Prime Minister’s Office”. Who told Mike Duffy to remain silent?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, these are not matters I am privy to. This is an email from Mike Duffy, who is no longer a member of our caucus and certainly never conveyed that information to me.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, once Mike Duffy received the $90,000 from the Prime Minister’s Office, he stopped cooperating with Deloitte, which was the auditor in the file. Was that part of the deal with Mike Duffy?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Again, Mr. Speaker, I think it’s important to note the falsehood in that particular question. Mr. Duffy has received no money from thePrime Minister’s Office, nor from the taxpayers of Canada. Mr. Wright has been very clear that Mr. Wright gave this money to Mr. Duffy out of his own personal resources, and to my knowledge, there is no legal agreement between the two of them.

Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, actually, when the chief of staff of the Prime Minister in the course of his functions from the Prime Minister’s office gives $90,000 to shut up a sitting senator, that is out of the Prime Minister’s Office.

    No legal document? A cheque is a document. Do they have a copy of the cheque? Has the Prime Minister or anyone in his office seen that cheque?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, once again, contrary to what the Leader of the Opposition just said, there is no cheque from the Prime Minister’s Office. There is no use of Prime Minister’s Office funds in this affair.

    This was an action Mr. Wright took, using his own resources, on which he is now subject to examination and accountability by the Ethics Commissioner.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, if he has never seen the cheque, how can the Prime Minister rise in this House and tell us that it is a personal cheque? How does he know that it is not from a trust account? How does he know that if he has never seen the cheque?

 
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):

    Mr. Speaker, this is a matter of public record, as Mr. Wright himself has said. I can certainly assure the member that no such money has gone out of our office or out of PMO budget.

Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated in this House today that he only learned about the deal between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy on May 15.

    However, on the evening of May 14, CTV News ran the story about this deal and included commentary from the Prime Minister’s own office that no taxpayer money was used.
 
    Is the Prime Minister so completely not aware about what is going on in his own office that he did not know the night before, when the news broke?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, I think I have been very clear. Until the morning of May 15, when Mr. Wright informed me that he had written a personal cheque to Mr. Duffy so that he could repay his expenses, it had been my understanding that Mr. Duffy had paid from his own personal resources.

Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, let us get this straight.

     On Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office denies any problem with the payment. On Wednesday, it is an honourable act. On Friday, Nigel Wright still has the complete confidence of the Prime Minister. Sunday morning, he resigns, but cabinet ministers run around calling him “a great Canadian”.
 
    If the Prime Minister learned about the $90,000 payment at the same time as the rest of us, why did it take him a week to relieve his chief of staff of his responsibilities?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, by his own admission, Mr. Wright made a very serious error. For that, he has accepted full, sole responsibility.

    He has agreed to resign. He is subject to an investigation and examination by the Ethics Commissioner, on which I anticipate he will be fully co-operative.
Mr. Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, this is what the Prime Minister would have Canadians believe: the chief of staff walks into the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday morning, looks him in the eye and says that unbeknownst to him he had secretly paid a sitting legislator $90,000 to obstruct an audit.

     If that were true, the Prime Minister should have fired Nigel Wright on the spot. Instead, he spent five days defending him and calling him “honourable”.

    Has the Prime Minister grown so out of touch that he actually expects Canadians to believe this story?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, the facts here are reasonably simple, whether or not the opposition or anybody else particularly likes them.

    The facts are simple and they are clear. It was the belief of Mr. Wright—in fact, I think it is fair to say the belief of all of us—that Mr. Duffy should repay any inappropriate expenses. Mr. Wright ultimately decided, on his own, using his own resources, to assist Mr. Duffy in that repayment, a matter he kept to himself until Wednesday, May 15.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, Benjamin Perrin denies having been a part of the decision to give Mike Duffy the money and write him a cheque. He does not deny having drawn up the agreement for Nigel Wright.

      Can the Prime Minister tell us what part Mr. Perrin played in this story?

Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):
    Mr. Speaker, Mr. Perrin has already answered these questions. It was Mr. Wright who gave the cheque to Mr. Duffy. According to our information, as far as we know at this time, there is no legal agreement between them.
Hon. Thomas Mulcair (Leader of the Opposition, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is simply juggling the same words as his ministers. 

     There is no legal agreement, but there was an exchange of emails, and we should see something here, because there was an exchange of emails. The cheque is a legal document. It is a negotiable instrument. It should be disclosed. We will find out if it was a personal cheque or one drawn on a trust account.
 
    We have another question.
    After expressing full confidence in Pamela Wallin, what did he learn from the audit of Ms. Wallin’s expenses that led him to ask Senator Wallin to resign from the Conservative caucus after having expressed full confidence in her and having said in this House that he had personally checked her expenses and that they were fine? What changed?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): 

    Mr. Speaker, that is incorrect. What we said is there would be an examination of the expenses of all senators. There is in fact an ongoing audit of Senator Wallin’s expenses. Senator Wallin has chosen to step outside the Conservative caucus until such time as that audit report and the matters that may or may not be raised in it are resolved.

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