Original document says expenses for winterized cottage should not have been claimed
A copy of the original report by an internal Senate committee on Senator Mike Duffy‘s expense claims, obtained by CBC News, makes it clear the committee believes Duffy’s primary residence is in Ottawa, and not in P.E.I.
The unedited report, written by members of the Senate committee on internal economy, says Duffy’s “continued presence in his Ottawa residence over the years,” as well as his travel patterns, do not support his declaration that his primary residence is his winterized cottage in P.E.I.
These findings were left out of an edited report on Duffy’s expenses released May 9 by the Senate.
Duffy had declared his P.E.I. cottage as his primary residence, and had been claiming living expenses and per diems worth up to $22,000 a year for his home in suburban Ottawa, the place he designated as his secondary residence.
The same kinds of paragraphs about the clarity of residency rules and disbelief about claims of primary residence were omitted from the public reports on senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau. Both were ordered to repay money for inappropriately claiming they had secondary residences in Ottawa.
In Duffy’s case, both the original report and the publicly released version, note that Duffy repaid $90,000 to reimburse the Senate for expenses he claimed he “may have been mistaken” in filing for.
A paragraph about Duffy’s lawyer was also removed from the edited report. The accounting firm Deloitte, which conducted a forensic audit on Duffy’s expenses, asked to meet with him after he had repaid the money. The original, unedited report says that Duffy’s lawyer wrote Deloitte saying its review was no longer necessary, adding that the “considerable time” and “public expense” involved in compiling documents for the review was no longer needed in Duffy’s case.
Both versions of the reports on Duffy were signed by the Senate committee’s head, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, who told reporters, when the edited report was released May 9, Duffy’s case was “closed.”
Mike Duffy says his actions ‘do not merit criticism’
Senator Mike Duffy said Wednesday that when Canadians know all the facts about his spending claims they will conclude that his actions “do not merit criticism.”
Duffy hadn’t made any public comments since he left the Conservative caucus on Thursday over the Senate spending scandal. On Tuesday night the Senate voted to send the internal economy committee report on the Deloitte audit that was done on his expenses back to the committee for another review.
“Yesterday, the Senate referred the issue of my expenses to the Senate Board of Internal Economy. I welcome this development. Canadians deserve to know all of the facts,” Duffy said in the written statement. “I am confident that when they do they will conclude, as Deloitte has already concluded, that my actions regarding expenses do not merit criticism.”
“I intend to co-operate fully with the board and with all other authorities and will have no further public comments until those processes are complete,” said Duffy.
Duffy was in the Senate chamber Wednesday, sitting as an Independent beside Pam Wallin. Wallin recused herself from the Conservative caucuson Friday, while her expenses continue to be audited. She declined to answer any questions Wednesday about how the audit is going and if she has paid any money back.
“As I said last Friday — and on several occasions — I have been fully co-operating with the auditors and my office is working hard to ensure every question is answered and every possible document is provided to them.”
Wallin said when the audit is complete she will be “more than happy” to answer questions.
Duffy has been at the centre of the Senate controversy along with senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau. The Senate reports in response to the audits of their travel and housing claims ordered Brazeau and Harb to repay $48,000 and $51,000, respectively. Duffy said before the audit was completed that it had become a distraction to his work and that he would reimburse taxpayers.
Senators are eligible for up to $21,000 a year to cover the expense of having a second home in the National Capital Region. Duffy is a Prince Edward Island senator who has had a home in Ottawa for years and questions were raised about which home is his primary residence.
Duffy has defended himself in claiming the housing allowance by saying the forms are confusing and after the repayment was made he did not co-operate with the Deloitte audit.
Honourable but not perfect, LeBreton says
The controversy developed further last week when it was revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote a personal cheque to cover the $90,000 repayment. Wright resigned on Sunday and said that Harper did not know about the means by which Duffy paid the money back.
Despite Duffy’s confidence that Canadians will conclude he did nothing wrong, some from his own caucus are not throwing their full support behind him. Heritage Minister James Moore said Tuesday that he’s pleased Duffy isn’t currently sitting as a Conservative, and other MPs and senators have expressed concern about disrespecting taxpayer dollars.
In the Senate Wednesday afternoon, Conservative leader Marjory LeBreton gave a lengthy speech during debate on proposed rule changes that were part of the committee’s response to the audits. She said the Senate is facing a crisis because the Conservatives made the upper chamber more accountable and transparent.
It was her party that forced senators to make their expenses public, she said, and had it not done so there would be “no hyped-up media stories” or public outrage.
“The reality therefore is that we are facing this crisis because we flung open the door and revealed what was going on, and now rather than being credited for doing so, we are paying the price for taking this important and necessary step,” LeBreton said.
“We are not perfect, but we have conducted ourselves in an appropriate and honourable way,” she said. LeBreton said the proposed rule changes to travel and other expenses will fix “the mess” in the Senate and ensure the rules are clear.
“There is no broom and there is no carpet here. These changes are going to be made,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Liberal Senator Jim Munson, a member of the Senate’s internal economy committee that dealt with Duffy’s expenses audit, said an original report on the audit was changed and he alleged the Prime Minister’s Office may have had something to do with the “whitewash.”
“We feel that there has been political interference with the Prime Minister’s Office in the workings of the Senate internal economy committee. Full stop,” Munson said Wednesday morning. “We feel that Senator Duffy was given an easier ride than the other senators — that words were taken out of the original Senate report dealing with this and that the same wording should have been there in that particular Senate report.”
The language used in the reports on Harb and Brazeau about the ambiguity of the rules on claiming housing allowances was not the same as in the report on Duffy. The opposition parties say the report absolved Duffy of any wrongdoing.
Harb was a Liberal senator but resigned from the caucus in the wake of the audit, and is fighting the order to pay the money back. Brazeau was a Conservative senator, now sitting as an Independent, and is also fighting the recommendation to pay money back.
“We have said, the committee that I do sit on, we felt the report has been tainted. We feel it’s a whitewash and as our leader of the Senate said last night in a very eloquent way, that this has to go on to proper legal authorities,” said Munson.
“We feel it was an interference though within the process of the Deloitte accounting firm’s report, that there were conversations that may have taken place between the Prime Minister’s Office and those who sit on our board of internal economy from the Conservative side, and we’re not very happy about that.”
NDP renews push to abolish Senate
Munson was asked if he saw the original report.
“I have seen the report, but I’m not going to get into the details of that report at all, because it was an in-camera meeting,” he said. “But I can certainly talk in a point of principle that we weren’t happy with what we saw and we were certainly not happy with what was changed at the very last minute. It was a whitewash.”
Munson said he doesn’t think Canadians are satisfied that the Senate voted Tuesday night to send Duffy’s audit report back to the internal economy committee for a second review, despite objections from the Liberals who want the matter sent to the RCMP.
The NDP on Wednesday launched a new campaign calling for the Senate to be abolished, a longstanding NDP policy. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said a new website will allow Canadians to voice their opposition to the Senate.
“The Stephen Harper who talked about the Senate in 2005 said if it can’t be reformed, it should be abolished well we’re going to try to hold Stephen Harper to his word. The Senate cannot be reformed,” Mulcair told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“You can’t reform something that contains people who have never been elected, who don’t understand the very principles of our democracy and are behaving as the ones that we’ve have just seen in the last week.”
Mulcair also said Conservatives in the Senate were going easy on their colleague and raised questions about Harper’s involvement.
“The whitewashing by the committee is the beginning of the end of the Senate,” he said. “Stephen Harper was dictating the results of these so-called investigations.”
“It turns out the so-called investigation is the same gang of Senators that whitewashed the last time trying to whitewash again to stop anything from coming out.They’re all in an operation now where one is trying to cover off the other,” Mulcair said.
LeBreton was asked about the different wording of the reports by the Liberal leader in the Senate, James Cowan, on Tuesday night during the Senate’s question period.
“In internal economy, there was a discussion about the wording of the reports. The wording for Senators Harb and Brazeau was there to facilitate the payment of monies that we wanted to get them to return. In the case of Senator Duffy, my understanding is that there was a debate in internal economy. I was not there,” she said.
LeBreton said she is not aware of any conversations between Harper’s office and Senator David Tkachuk, the chair of the internal economy committee, concerning the report on Duffy.