OTTAWA - The new Speaker of the Senate says senators were actively discouraged from signing blank expense forms because it could lead to spending abuses.
George Furey told Mike Duffy's criminal trial Monday that he never signed a blank expense claim, something Duffy's former assistant has testified the former Conservative senator did to facilitate paperwork.
Furey said he spoke to his Senate Liberals about the issue and advised them against it, adding that Conservative senators were given the same advice behind closed doors by senior Tory senators.
Furey called signing blank expense forms “poor practice,” but said he had no first-hand knowledge of anyone doing it.
When asked if he would do it, Furey was blunt: “I would not pre-sign a document because it would be open to abuse.”
Furey is testifying today in Duffy's criminal trial, in which the P.E.I. senator faces 31 criminal charges stemming from his travel, office and housing claims.
Furey was on the three-member executive of the Senate committee that oversaw Duffy's spending audit in 2013 and was appointed Speaker of the Senate last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He arrived in the courtroom Monday followed by lawyers from the Senate.
Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne unsuccessfully argued that Furey shouldn't be allowed to testify because he was only there to provide opinions, not facts, about Senate spending rules.
Duffy's defence team has long argued that the Senate's spending rules were unclear and ambiguous enough that Duffy could not have broken any rules, including those about what was part of his duties as a senator because the term was loosely defined.
Furey told the court that senators are given broad leeway when it comes to how they define parliamentary business given the broad range of activities senators undertake.
A 2010 outside audit by firm Ernst &Young found “a lack of clear guidance and criteria” that would help senators understand what was a “parliamentary function” and what the Senate would pay for.
Furey told the court that the Senate's internal economy committee, which oversees spending, was sometimes told by administrators that senators had questions about what they could charge for and what constituted a “parliamentary function.”
Furey said senators are encouraged to ask questions of the internal economy committee or Senate administration if they are unsure about any aspect of the rules and to do so before they file expense claims.
Earlier in the day, Bayne told court that Furey told investigators looking into Duffy's spending that there was no need for rules defining primary and secondary residences for senators because the distinction was “self-explanatory.”
According to Duffy's lawyer, Furey has already told investigators that a primary residence was where a senator's spouse and dog lived and where “your local pub is.”