Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Senator Mike Duffy Canadian Press
Senator Mike Duffy finally had his say Tuesday, dropping a political bombshell before the entire Senate, by saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper told him to repay his claimed expense money, whether or not it was claimed inappropriately.
Before a stunned audience of senators and reporters in the Senate gallery, Duffy said Harper told him, in the presence of his then chief of staff Nigel Wright, it was the perception of the "base" that was important, not what Duffy said about his own innocence.
"The prime minister wasn't interested in explanations or the truth. 'It's not about what you did, it's about the perception of what you did that's been created in the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base''' Duffy said.
Harper has always maintained Duffy's expense troubles were handled by Nigel Wright, but Duffy's account puts Harper in the room.
After Duffy's explosive speech, the prime minister's spokesman issued a release saying there was nothing new in it.
"It’s on the public record. Following a caucus meeting Mr. Duffy approached the Prime Minister and raised his expenses. The Prime Minister made it clear that any inappropriate expenses should be repaid. That’s it. That is the only time the Prime Minister discussed Mr. Duffy’s expenses with him," Jason MacDonald wrote.
But speaking confidently in a strong voice, Duffy made it clear the meeting in question was between "just the three of us," and that it was Harper, not Wright, who provided the political solution that Duffy's expenses must be repaid.
Despite that order from the prime minister, Duffy said he continued to protest that he had followed the rules when filling out his expenses. At that point, he related, the threats began.
He was told if he didn't comply, Conservative Senators David Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen would issue a press release saying he was ineligible to sit in the Senate because he was not a true resident of P.E.I.
When Duffy complained he didn't even have the money to repay expenses, he related, "Nigel Wright said, 'Don't worry, I'll write the cheque.'"
The Senate was debating motions Tuesday brought by the Conservatives to suspend Duffy and fellow senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay in response to allegations involving their expense claims.
Duffy related, once the news of the cheque became known, the Prime Minister's Office reneged on its deal with him. "The PMO came back with a vengeance", he said, "the deal was off."
Duffy implicated the prime minister's current chief of staff, Ray Novak, saying Novak phoned him at his home in P.E.I. and said if he didn't resign from Conservative caucus, he would be thrown out.
Novak, Duffy said, threatened him further, telling him he would have to appear before the Senate ethics committee and would likely be expelled from the Senate.
The Government Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton was also on the call. "You've got to do this Mike, do what I'm telling you, quit the caucus within the next 90 minutes. It is the only way to save your paycheque,” LeBreton said, according to Duffy.
Duffy said his wife and his sister were on the line listening to the entire call.
Duffy also said the deal for him to accept $90,000 and to promise, in return, to be publicly contrite about repaying the money, was negotiated between "the several lawyers involved who were taking instructions from their clients — lawyers for the PMO, for the Conservative Party and me."
An extensive email chain was created, he said, contrary to indications the PMO has no documents about any alleged deal. "If they're not in the PMO, they're in the hands of my lawyers and I suspect in the hands of the RCMP,'' he said.
Duffy said he was speaking against the order of his own doctors because of a heart condition, and asked the Senate, if he was suspended without pay or benfits, how would he pay for his heart drugs, especially since he said the Senate has the power to remove him from the Senate health plan.
At one point Duffy referred to the Prime Minister's Office as the "kids in short pants."
Brazeau says he's done nothing wrong
An emotional Brazeau spoke after Duffy, saying the Senate "was where due process comes to die." Brazeau claimed he'd been given tacit approval to claim a secondary residence, and he scolded the Senate's internal economy committee for ignoring a Deloitte report that concluded Senate residency rules were unclear.
The whole thing was "a complete joke, a farce," he said.
At one point, Duffy interjected loudly while Brazeau spoke, saying, "The fix was in."
Brazeau ended his speech by saying: "Stephen Harper, you've lost my vote."
The Senate then adjourned for the day to resume the debate Wedndesday at 2p.m.ET. Wallin, who was present in the Senate chamber, had not yet spoken.
Several senators plan to vote against the motion
When debate resumes, several Liberal senators and at least one Conservative, Hugh Segal, have said they will vote against the motion to suspend Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau.
Liberal Senators Terry Mercer and George Baker said they both intend to speak against the motion in the Senate. Baker believes the motion, if passed, could interfere with the possibility of criminal charges being laid against any of the three senators.
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, a close friend of Wallin's, told reporters Tuesday he will vote against the motion. "Gross negligence is a serious term that implies intent," he said, adding he doesn't want to interfere in the police investigation.
Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette told CBC News Network she will vote against the motion. Liberal Senator Jim Munson told reporters he will vote no as well.
Conservatives have a large majority in the Senate, almost double the seats of Liberals. Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton pointed out to reporters Tuesday that the Senate has suspended a senator without pay once before, in the case of Liberal Senator Andrew Thompson, for not attending Senate sittings.
Duffy's lawyer lobbed his own bombshell
On Monday, Duffy's lawyer levelled bombshell allegations at the Prime Minister's Office, saying his client's living expenses were "cleared from Day 1" by the office of LeBreton, who was then Senate government leader, and when they later became controversial, Duffy was pressured to take a deal from the PMO or face removal from his seat.
Lawyer Donald Bayne on Monday read from emails purportedly between Duffy and LeBreton's office as well as Harper's former chief of staff Wright and others to support his claim that Duffy did not knowingly break Senate rules.
PM offers no new info
The PMO, Bayne said, came up with a "scenario" and communication lines for Duffy to use with the media about how to explain why he was paying back the expense money.
During Monday's question period in the House of Commons, the prime minister offered no new information to address the claims, repeating what he has said every time he has been asked about the allegations in the ongoing Senate expenses scandal.
"We've been very clear that we expect all parliamentarians to respect the letter and the spirit of any rules regarding expenses, and if they do not respect that, then they can expect there to be consequences and accountability for their actions," Harper said.
Nitin Srivastava reports from the barricaded town of Saharanpur where the situation remains tense.
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