Prime Minister Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) was reacting to several questions from reporters about CTV reports last week disclosing first, on Tuesday May 14, that then chief of staff Nigel Wright had secretly intervened to help Sen. Duffy repay the money, and then on Wednesday May 15 that the Prime Minister’s Office had confirmed Mr. Wright gave $90,000 from his personal bank account to Sen. Duffy to repay the expenses.
Mr. Harper told a news conference in Lima, Peru, that he learned of the payment only after “stories appeared in the media speculating on the source of Mr. Duffy’s repayments,” but the timeline of the CTV stories and inquiries by CTV Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife indicate Mr. Harper should have known even before Mr. Fife’s initial report.
The $90,000 gift, which Mr. Wright gave to Sen. Duffy at the latest by March 25, when Sen. Duffy turned the money over to the Senate, allowed Sen. Duffy to withdraw his cooperation with audits being conducted by the accounting firm Deloitte, and also resulted in more lenient treatment than two other Senators, Senator Patrick Brazeau and Senator Mac Harb, when the Senate’s Internal Economy Committee reported back to the Senate Chamber on the three cases.
After nearly a week of controversy with no public comment from Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, May 19, released two statements—one from Mr. Wright saying Mr. Harper had accepted his resignation and that he was acting in the public interest in order for the money to be repaid and another from the Prime Minister saying he accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation and accepted that Mr. Wright believed he was acting in the public interest but also that he understood his decision to resign.
Without further comment, Mr. Harper invited Parliament Hill news media in for the start of a special meeting of the Conservative Parliamentary caucus on Tuesday, May 21, where he said he was upset, called the incident a “distraction” from other government work and reminded his caucus of Conservative governance ethics, without saying anything about Mr. Wright and ignoring attempts by reporters to ask him questions following the speech.
Two hours after he left the caucus meeting, Mr. Harper flew to South America for four days of visits to Peru and Columbia, where Canadian reporters had their first opportunity in a week to question the Prime Minister about the $90,000 Mr. Wright gave to Sen. Duffy.
In response to the first question, from CBCNN reporter Terry Milewski, Mr. Harper made what appears to be the conflicting statement about when he learned of the financial arrangement, as part of an explanation that he did not know about it when Mr. Wright agreed to make the payment to Mr. Duffy. Mr. Milewski had said in his question that neither Mr. Harper nor Mr. Wright had yet said Mr. Harper was unaware of the “deal.”
“I think we’ve been very clear that I did not know, but let me be, let me be very specific about this,” Mr. Harper said. “I learned of this after stories appeared in the media last week speculating on the source of Mr. Duffy’s repayments.”
The Prime Minister’s Office, upon request, provided The Hill Timeswith a Privy Council Office transcript of the exchanges between Mr. Harper and the journalists.
Mr. Harper went on: “Immediately upon learning that the source was indeed by chief of staff, Nigel Wright, I immediately asked that information be released publicly. That is what I knew.”
Mr. Fife, however, first asked Mr. Harper’s communications office on Tuesday, May 14, about information he had obtained indicating that Mr. Wright helped Sen. Duffy to repay the loan. That day, the day before Mr. Harper’s office confirmed the payment, Mr. Fife received the same response from Sen. Duffy’s office and the Prime Minister’s Office, both saying only that Sen. Duffy had “paid back the expenses and no taxpayers resources were used.”
Following Mr. Fife’s report on CTV National News Tuesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office the next day confirmed Mr. Wright had given Mr. Duffy the $90,000.
Mr. Harper’s communications director, Andrew MacDougall, did not reply to an email from The Hill Timeson Thursday noting, with a question mark, that Mr. Harper should have first learned about the payment on Tuesday, May 14, when Mr. Fife asked about it prior to his report.
“I think what’s more important about this is that not simply did I not know, but that I was not consulted, I was not asked to sign off on any such thing, and had I obviously been consulted or known, I would not have agreed with it,” Mr. Harper told the Lima news conference.
“And it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation. My belief, I should mention, my belief of course, prior to all this, was that Mr. Duffy had repaid. When I’d heard Mr. Duffy had repaid, my assumption was that Mr. Duffy had repaid from his own resources, and that’s how it should have been in my judgment.”
Mr. Harper then gave the same answer in French, and responded to another English language questioner who asked him how he expected Canadians to believe he knew nothing about the money his chief of staff gave to Sen. Duffy.
“Look, I think my belief here was reasonable, what I think anybody would have expected, that when it was said that Mr. Duffy had repaid his expenses, that indeed he, and not someone else, had repaid his expenses. I know Mr. Wright assisted him, or did this for him, and wanted to see the taxpayers reimbursed. That’s the right motive, but nevertheless, it was obviously not correct for that decision to be made or executed without my knowledge or without public transparency,” Mr. Harper said.
Mr. Harper noted the party has also had “a couple of Senators”—Sen. Duffy and Senator Pamela Wallin—leave the Conservative caucus over the expense affair. Sen. Wallin, whose expenses are being examined in a separate audit by Deloitte, had been part of the controversy for several months but suddenly resigned last Friday.
“My point is on this there is accountability when things like this happen, we’ve also put in place various mechanisms and authorities that will further look into these matters to see if any additional action has to be taken on any particular individuals, and I can assure you that we will certainly… we will certainly look at our systems, see what we have to do to better manage or, better yet, prevent these kinds of things in the future. Obviously I’m very sorry that this has occurred, I’m not only sorry, I’ve been through the range of emotions, I’m sorry, I’m frustrated, I’m extremely angry about it, but this is the reality, and I think we’ve dealt with it promptly,” Mr. Harper told the news conference.
Author: TIM NAUMETZ