Akin

As RCMP cracks Duffy's books, Tories firm up political lines

By David Akin, Postmedia Network

Senator Mike Duffy arrives at Senate for a committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 28, 2013. (Andre Forget/QMI Agency)

Senator Mike Duffy arrives at Senate for a committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 28, 2013. (Andre Forget/QMI Agency)

OTTAWA - As the Senate formally invited the RCMP to poke around former Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy's spending habits, Conservatives on Wednesday began punching back at their political opponents after being pummelled for days over the Senate expense scandal.

The transaction at the heart of that scandal - a $90,000 "gift" from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff to Duffy so the senator could re-pay ineligible expense claims - continued to be the focus of opposition's interest.

"Has the RCMP contacted the Prime Minister's Office to obtain ... e-mail or all other documents that it has in relation to this matter?," Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair asked Harper in question period.

But instead of the subdued, vague responses he provided to similar questions on Tuesday, Harper fired back at Mulcair.

"To my knowledge we have had no such contact. Of course that would be very different than the leader of the NDP who, after 17 years of apparently knowing about the activities of the mayor of Laval, who is now charged with various offences, did not reveal that information to the public and the police until very recently," Harper said with rising intensity in his voice.

Harper was referring to testimony Mulcair recently gave to investigators looking into municipal corruption in Montreal that, 17 years ago, he had a meeting with Gilles Vaillancourt, the former mayor of Laval now facing charges, in which Vaillancourt offered to "help" Mulcair before flashing an envelope. Mulcair testified he had no knowledge of the envelope's contents but the meeting made him uncomfortable and quickly ended it.

Harper was suggesting Mulcair should have told police immediately. Mulcair maintains that he had nothing to report at the time and that it wasn't until after Vaillancourt was charged in connection with municipal corruption that the earlier meeting took on a new light.

Harper would come back to Mulcair's meeting with Vaillancourt several times during Wednesday's question period. It almost certainly won't dissaude the opposition from continuing to focus on the $90,000 cheque but it seemed to boost the morale of Harper's caucus, a group which has been in sour spirits since the Senate scandal broke.

As for Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader also earned a swipe from Harper when Trudeau seemed to have boxed the PM in over a key point in the timeline on the whole affair.

Harper maintains he did not know about the cheque until the morning of May 15, the day after it aired on the evening news. But reporters had asked Harper's office about it on the afternoon of May 14.

"How does the Prime Minister reconcile his assertion that he did not know about the scandal until [May 15] if his office responded [to reporters] the afternoon before?" Trudeau asked.

Harper stuck to his line and then said: "The leader of the Liberal Party should explain why he has known for weeks that a member of his caucus, a Liberal senator, is connected to an undisclosed offshore bank account worth $1.7 million, and he has chosen to take no action whatsoever."

That attack, too, takes some explaining. Harper was referring to Liberal Senator Pana Merchant whose husband, lawyer Tony Merchant, allegedly has stashed money in offshore tax havens where Canadian tax authorities can't touch it. Tony Merchant has not been accused of any crime.

Meanwhile, the full Senate, in a vote Wednesday afternoon, agreed to formally invite the RCMP to review the expense claims of Duffy, the former CTV broadcaster put into the Senate by Harper, who now appears, among other things, to have claimed expenses for Senate-related work while he was campaigning for the Tories or out of Ottawa on other non-Senate business.

It may be months before that investigation or other parliamentary inquiries are complete.

 

Poll

Should the Senate be abolished?


Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions


Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »