Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the Senate expenses scandal is not a factor in the outcome of Monday's byelections. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says neither he nor anyone in his office gave Senator Irving Gerstein the green light to contact the auditing firm of Deloitte about Senator Mike Duffy's expenses audit.
"No," Harper told reporters gathered in Winnipeg following an event where the prime minister and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger welcomed the completion of a new four-lane expressway.
But emails obtained by the RCMP in court documents released this week reveal that Harper's former chief of staff Nigel Wright did ask Senator Irving Gerstein to contact Deloitte and sort the matter out.
According to the court documents Duffy agreed to repay his ineligible expenses – even though the senator believed he did not owe the money – only if five conditions were met.
The first of those five conditions was that the government would put a stop to the Deloitte audit looking into his expenses.
In an interview with the RCMP Gerstein said he did contact Michael Runia, one of the partners at Deloitte, about the audit. Runia advised Gerstein that he did not know anything about it, but would inquire.
On March 21, Gerstein contacted Patrick Rogers, the manager of parliamentary affairs in the Prime Minister's Office, and told him Deloitte would not be stopping the audit.
PM 'answering for himself'
In an email to CBC News Friday afternoon, a spokespersonfor the prime minister clarified that Harper was only speaking for himself.
"He was answering for himself. He had no knowledge of Gerstein's efforts to contact Deloitte or that he [Gerstein] had been asked to do it," said Jason MacDonald, Harper's director of communications.
"The RCMP document speaks for itself."
The question from the reporter in Winnipeg was "Prime minister, did you or the PMO approve Irving Gerstein to contact Deloitte about the Duffy audit?"
The Mounties have also alleged in the court documents that the senior ranks in the PMO "influenced" Conservative senators into changing the wording of the final Senate report to remove all criticism of Duffy.
The final Senate report was based on the Deloitte audit.
In an email to CBC News on Thursday, Caitlin Stidwill, a media relations manager at Deloitte, said "at no time was the ethical wall breached. No information related to the audit was provided to anyone who was not entitled to receive the information."
Harper told reporters he does not believe the Senate expenses scandal has had an impact on the campaign in the Manitoba federal riding of Brandon-Souris.
"For those who are concerned about the Senate matter I only need to point out that it was this party, the Conservative Party, that required for the first time transparency on Senate expenses. And only this party that sanctioned those who have not respected the rules," the prime minister said.
Polls released ahead of Monday's byelection show the Liberals are in a tight race for the traditionally Conservative riding of Brandon-Souris.
Harper said those who are considering voting in Monday's byelection in Brandon-Souris ought to stay focused on the economy and accountability in government.
He took a swing at the Liberal Party saying it was the Liberals in the Senate who voted against the suspensions without pay of senators Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, and Pamela Wallin.
"The Liberal Party opposed transparency, and the Liberal Party opposed having any sanctions for people who disregarded the rules," Harper said.
The prime minister is not expected to visit the two Manitoba ridings ahead of Monday's byelections, although he was in Winnipeg on Friday for the opening of a new major expressway.
Harper was also at the Winnipeg Jets game on Thursday night.
The prime minister did, however, send a letter to Brandon-Souris residents asking them to vote for Conservative candidate Larry Mcguire.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also wrote an open letter to Brandon-Souris residents answering what he called the prime minister's "malicious, negative and false attacks" against him.
There are a total of four federal byelections on Monday, the other three being in Provencher (Manitoba), Toronto Centre (Ontario) and Bourassa (Quebec.)