News Canada

Senate expense claim scandal dampers Victoria Day festivities

By Daniel Proussalidis, National Bureau

OTTAWA — Tory MPs may not be in the mood for fireworks and barbecues over the Victoria Day weekend, amid a Senate expense claim scandal that forced Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to leave the party caucus.

"I'm getting calls from loyal Conservatives furious over the Senate," one MP told QMI Agency on condition of anonymity. "And I'm mad with rage, too."

MPs will have a chance to vent that rage when Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with his caucus members Tuesday morning, ahead of a week that will see the opposition try to grill the government.

Jim Armour, a public relations expert and former Harper communications director, says the prime minister will have to reassure his colleagues about where the government is headed.

"After what's gone on this week, I suspect that — like the captain of the Starship Enterprise — the prime minister has asked for a damage report," said Armour.

He says the government can limit the harm in the meantime.

"According to most pundits, Prime Minister Harper will announce a major cabinet shuffle in June, prorogue the House in late August and come back with a new re-election agenda in the fall," said Armour. "The latest mess won't change those plans. Instead, it makes them all the more necessary."

Former colleagues at CTV, Duffy and Wallin both left the Conservative caucus last week.

Duffy faces questions over $90,000 in expenses, including conflicting reports about the role Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, played in helping him pay the money back.

Wallin is still being audited over her more than $320,000 in travel expenses.

Liberal Sen. David Smith says by sitting as independent senators, Duffy and Wallin take some of the pressure off the Conservative caucus while auditors and ethics officers scrutinize them.

"And then, if you're cleared, you can go back in, and if you aren't, then you have to wait and see what the outcome is," Smith told Sun News Network. "But, basically, I think they did the right thing."

NDP MP Charlie Angus is pushing the government for further investigation.

"With such a large ethical cloud hanging over his office and his government, Stephen Harper must agree to an arm's-length independent investigation of these serious allegations," said Angus.

The New Democrats have also asked Elections Canada to investigate whether Duffy double-dipped by claiming Senate per diems and billing his travel and other expenses to local ridings during the 2011 federal election campaign.


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