Senator Mike Duffy, a native of Prince Edward Island, was one of three Senators whose living allowance expense claims were reviewed during an external audit. Liberal Senator Mac Harb and Independent Senator Brazeau were also audited.
With the newest revelations that the Prime Ministers Office (PMO) was involved in the case of Senator Duffy, with the prime minister's chief of staff, apparently writing a personal cheque to Senator Duffy to permit him to pay back the falsely claimed expenses of $90,172, would it be appropriate for Duffy to resign?
The Senate committee on internal economy, budgets and administration tabled a report last week that stated that the criteria for determining the living expense are lacking in the rules and guidelines. While the committee opined that Senators Harb and Brazeau should have known better, it lacked that language in Senator Duffy's case.
Both Senators Harb and Brazeau have said that they will fight the senate's repayment order. The rules appear to be relatively simple and permit senators to claim living expenses of up to $22,000 a year if their primary residence is more than 100 kilometers from the national capital. Duffy owns a residence in Ottawa, where he allegedly spends more time than in Prince Edward Island (PEI).
Duffy's case has become an issue of ethics when CTV reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff wrote a personal cheque to cover Duffy's expenses that he repaid the Senate. The cheque, according to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) was a personal gift to Duffy.
Mr. Duffy agreed to repay the expenses because it was the right thing to do. However, Mr. Duffy was unable to make a timely repayment," MacDougall wrote in the email.
"Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could repay the outstanding amount."
While not revealing its sources, CTV Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported on Tuesday that Wright had secretly intervened to help Duffy to repay the expenses while the external audit was still ongoing. The same sources said that the deal involved Duffy paying back the expenses in return for financial help and that the government would go easy on him.
Two days later, Duffy publicly vowed to reimburse the taxpayers, saying he "may have been mistaken" when he filled out Senate housing allowance forms, claiming a cottage in Prince Edward Island as his primary residence.
In March, Duffy repaid $90,172. Last week, the government praised him for showing “leadership” in paying back the funds.A spokesman for the Senate ethics office said that while no comments could be made on Duffy's specific case, but that the Senate conflict of interest code that states "the nature, but not the amount of any source of income over $2,000" must be disclosed. Duffy has not made a financial disclosure since 2012,
The federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson, who oversees the Conflict of Interest Act has confirmed that she will be looking into the matter.
“Commissioner Dawson is reviewing the matter in order to determine how the Conflict of Interest Act might apply, and is following up with Mr. Wright,” spokeswoman Jocelyne Brisebois wrote in an email Wednesday.
“The Office cannot comment further at this time,” she wrote.
Meanwhile the New Democratic Party (NDP) has called for an independent investigation. Ethics critic Charlie Angus has called on senators to hand over the investigation to the police to determine if senators broke the law when they claimed thousand in expenses they were not entitled to.
“On top of the original expense scandal, we now have allegations of unethical behaviour and cover-ups inside the Prime Minister’s Office—reaching right up to Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff,” said Angus. “Conservatives must agree to an independent investigation into these troubling allegations involving his most senior advisers.”
“We have the abuse of taxpayers’ dollars, the leaking of a confidential audit report and allegations of a ‘cash-for-repayment’ scheme quarterbacked right out of the PMO,” said Angus. “The dark cloud of ethical failures hanging over the Prime Minister’s Office is growing larger.”
“This is a very serious charge against Stephen Harper’s right-hand man. The Prime Minister cannot bury his head in the sand hoping it will go away.”
The taxpayers have a right to know what exactly happened here. There should be full cooperation by the Senate with the ethics commissioner and for the good of the Senate the three senators should resign. If necessary and applicable criminal charges should be laid. What part or primary residence did they not understand?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com