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Conservatives accused of covering for Sen. Mike Duffy

Mark Dunn. (Andre Forget/QMI Agency)

By Mark Dunn, Senior National Reporter

Senator Mike Duffy arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 23, 2013. Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus last week amid an expenses scandal.     REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Senator Mike Duffy arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 23, 2013. Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus last week amid an expenses scandal. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA - Two key Conservatives on a powerful Senate committee orchestrated the whitewash of a critical report into Sen. Mike Duffy's inappropriate use of tax dollars to soften its findings, opposition MPs said Thursday.

Carolyn Stewart Olsen, a former press secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and David Tkachuk, chairman of the Senate's board of internal economy, were accused by critics of doctoring the report to help Duffy.

New Democrats and Liberals said the PMO and key Conservatives in the Red Chamber were protecting Duffy as part of a deal.

MPs want to know who gave the order and why the secretive Senate committee refuses to conduct a second review of the former journalist's tab in public in light of new allegations be billed taxpayers for non-Senate business.

Tkachuk said he was never influenced by anyone in the PMO and Stewart Olsen said in interviews she couldn't comment on discussions that occurred during in-camera meetings, but everything was above board.

Short of a public inquiry the government is unlikely to call, Stewart Olsen, Tkachuk and others linked to the scandal should appear before the Commons ethics committee, Liberals said.

A preliminary list includes Nigel Wright, Harper's chief of staff who gave Duffy $90,000 and later resigned, Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative leader in the upper chamber and Benjamin Perrin, a former legal advisor to Harper, who denies participating in decisions to bail out Duffy.

The NDP said Ray Novak, Harper's new chief of staff, should be on standby.

"It seems pretty clear that the editing of the Senate report was handled by the two Conservative senators," Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said. "The critical question is where did they get their orders?"

Also Thursday, officials said the RCMP had received policies on living and travel guidelines it requested May 16 as part of its previously announced review into outside audits of questionable Senate housing claims by Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau to determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted.

With Harper in South America, Heritage Minister James Moore was left to defend the government.

He was badgered in the Commons over a written agreement the opposition says exists outlining a deal between Wright and Duffy.

"We are not aware of any legal agreement between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright whatsoever, in any format whatsoever," Moore said.

Moore then stuck to the government line that the federal ethics commissioner and the Senate ethics officer are looking into events and that they should be given a chance to complete their investigations.

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