New Senator Doug Finley, middle, is escorted into the Senate by Senator Marjory LeBreton and his sponsor Senator Irving Gerstein for the swearing in ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., Tuesday September 15, 2009. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Conservative Senator Irving Gerstein says he told Nigel Wright the party wouldn't pay for Mike Duffy's disputed Senate expenses.
RCMP court filings have alleged Gerstein was discussing the possibility of paying back up to $30,000 of Duffy's expenses, but this is the first time anyone from the party has mentioned the discussion.
The fact the party had paid for some of Duffy's legal bills related to his contested Senate expenses was not known until the embattled Senator delivered a speech in the upper chamber earlier this week.
Gerstein chairs the Conservative Fund of Canada, the party's fundraising arm. In an update to party members on Saturday at their biennial convention in Calgary, Gerstein brought up Wright's $90,000 payment to Duffy, which repaid questionable expenses Duffy owed the Senate.
"I made it absolutely clear to Nigel Wright that the Conservative Fund of Canada would not pay for Senator Mike Duffy's disputed expenses and it never did," Gerstein said.
Wright is the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who resigned when it was revealed he covered Duffy's debt.
Gerstein also confirmed the fund covered Duffy's legal fees, which came to $12,000 plus HST.
The news came as a surprise after a day where the party mostly dealt with policy resolutions.
The party declined to make Gerstein available for follow-up questions, and Harper was whisked out of the room while reporters tried to ask him about it.
The question caused an altercation between members of the prime minister's office and reporters, with PMO staff arguing journalists had no right to ask Harper for comment.
A lawyer for Wright declined to comment.
"Mr. Wright has no comment at this time to this latest characterization of events," Peter Mantas said in an email to CBC News.
Embraces 'bagman' title
Gerstein updated delegates on the party's finances: it's debt-free and has $14 million in the bank. That's despite spending $220 million in the last 10 years, he added.
He says 70 per cent of Conservative donors didn't donate to either the Canadian Alliance or the Progressive Conservatives, the two parties that merged in 2003 to create the Conservative Party.
"Message creates momentum creates money. It's never the other way around," Gerstein said.
He's proud of being a fundraiser, despite being referred to as a "bagman" by opposition politicians.
"I not only admit to being a bagman, I have proclaimed it. Because raising money for our party or any other for that matter is not only honourable but necessary," Gerstein said.
"All political parties require money to operate."
Gerstein was named to the Senate by Harper in 2008.
The party also paid tribute to Doug Finley, a former national campaign director for the party, who died of cancer in May. Finley was also appointed to the Senate in 2008.
Dealt with euthanasia, sex-selective abortion
Earlier Saturday, party members passed motions pledging not to support euthanasia or assisted suicide, and to scale back public sector pension plans.
The policies don't necessarily become government policy, but tell the party's leadership, including the prime minister, what direction members would like to see.
The party also adopted policies to:
- pledge not to support any legislation to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide.
- move public sector pensions to defined contribution plans rather than defined benefits, essentially scaling them back and bringing them into line with private sector pensions.
- reject the concept of legalizing the purchase of sex and develop a plan to target the buyers and third parties who profit off the sex trade.
- let faith-based organizations refuse the use of their facilities to people holding views contrary to their own.
- separate the CBC's TV and radio funding allocations.
One of the party's socially conservative MPs lauded the decision on sex-selective abortion, a practice in which female fetuses are aborted.
Conservative MP Rob Anders said the vote was a message from social conservatives in the party to the prime minister.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeatedly said the abortion debate is closed.
"Social conservatism is a significant component of the Conservative Party of Canada and I think that they spoke today," Anders said.
"I always believed it's very important to listen to the base of the party … I'm always glad when the base exercises its voice and you hear it at a convention like this, and I think of course its [well heeded].
Similar motion spiked in Parliament
Last spring, government and opposition MPs voted together at committee to block a similar motion by Conservative MP Mark Warawa.
It was Warawa's Langley, B.C., riding association that sponsored the motion Conservatives voted on.
They also voted for more transparency for their own books, less than a week after Duffy revealed the Conservative Party paid a $13,000 legal bill.
Delegates at the biennial policy convention approved a motion that would make it mandatory for a financial report to be delivered at each gathering.
Follow CBC News' liveblog of the convention here.
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