© Photo special to The Guardian by The Canadian Press.
Senator Mike Duffy leaves a meeting of the Senate Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration committee on Parliament Hill Thursday, May 9 in Ottawa. His opponents say Duffy should resign over the latest controversy to dog the senator.
Local and federal politicians are calling for P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy to resign and a full investigation to be launched into the involvement of the prime minister’s office in Duffy’s repayment of improperly-claimed residency expenses.
Reaction Wednesday over news that Duffy received a $90,000 gift from the prime minister’s chief of staff to repay the residency expenses was fast and fierce in P.E.I. and in Ottawa.
Charlottetown MP Sean Casey says he believes Duffy should resign.
“He’s shown very poor judgment and the degree to which the prime minister’s office has supported and stood behind him casts very serious questions on their judgment.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s spokesperson Andrew MacDougall confirmed Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote Duffy a personal cheque for $90,172 to allow Duffy to pay back expenses he claimed in housing allowance for his home in Kanata, near Ottawa. He claimed this was his secondary residence and that his cottage in Cavendish is his primary home.
Independent auditor Deloitte investigated the matter and found Duffy spends only 30 per cent of his time in P.E.I. Duffy released a statement last week saying he and his wife “came to the conclusion that repaying the $90,000 was the right thing to do.”
But MacDougall said Duffy was “unable to make a timely repayment.” National media outlets are reporting Duffy and Wright are friends and Wright, who is a wealthy businessman, gave Duffy the money out of fear for his health.
The federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is now looking into the matter.
Senate conflict of interest code rules require senators to disclose all gifts over $500 and bar senators from accepting gifts ‘considered to relate to the senator’s position.’
The PMO made no apologies for the deal between Wright and Duffy Wednesday.
“We believe that taxpayers should not be on the hook for improper expense claims made by Senators,” MacDougall said in his statement, adding that Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau, who were also found to have improperly billed taxpayers for housing expenses, should likewise “pay taxpayers back immediately.”
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter said he is not surprised at the close connection between Duffy’s expense scandal and the PMO, but said the money is a distraction from the real issue of Duffy’s eligibility to be a P.E.I. senator in the first place.
“The constitutional requirement is that a Senate appointee must be a resident of the region they represent. In my opinion, Duffy is not,” Easter said.
“If he’s not a resident here he shouldn’t be a senator.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been hammering government in the House of Commons on Duffy’s residency concerns since they were first raised earlier this year, said he finds the whole situation ‘absolutely appalling.’
“What we’re talking about is money that was taken from the taxpayer that Mr. Duffy wasn’t entitled to, and now we find out that, rather than doing the honourable thing, rather than fessing up there was a deal cooked up right in the prime minister’s office to pay this off and make it go away,” Angus said in an interview.
“I think it cuts to the very heart of this prime minister’s leadership.”
Both he and Casey are calling for an independent investigation into matter, similar to the one conducted into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair.
“(Harper) needs to come clean with the Canadian people, he needs to show he takes this seriously and he needs to establish an investigative process so that we can get to the bottom of this,” Angus said.
The Guardian contacted all of P.E.I.’s MPs and senators for comment on this story. Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay was unavailable for an interview. Senators Catherine Callbeck, Percy Downe and Libbe Hubley would not provide comment.
P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz also refused to speak on the matter
National Revenue Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea was not made available for an interview, but a spokesperson with her office echoed the statements made by the PMO.
“The government believes that taxpayers should not be on the hook for improper expense claims made by senators,” Shea’s spokesperson Clake Olsen said in an emailed statement to The Guardian.
“No taxpayer funds were used to repay the expenses.”
The Guardian also attempted to reach Duffy for comment, but received no response.