Harper fires back at Duffy over Senate expenses

Senator Duffy arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended himself in question period on Wednesday against accusations made yesterday by Senator Mike Duffy in the ongoing Senate expenses scandal.

Harper denied Duffy's allegation that he was more concerned about the perception of Duffy's expenses in the media than whether they violated parliamentary rules because the expense rules were “inexplicable to our base."

"The issue is not a matter of perception … you can not claim an expense you did not incur. That is not right, that is not proper, and that will not be tolerated in this party," Harper said during question period on Wednesday.

Mike Duffy vs. Stephen Harper on Senate expenses: a timeline​

Harper reiterated his position that he knew nothing about the $90,000 cheque Nigel Wright, the prime minister's former chief of staff, gave to the senator to repay his ineligible expenses.

"Any assertion that I was in any way consulted, or had any knowledge of Mr. Wright's payment to Mr. Duffy, is categorically false," Harper said.

The prime minister said, as he has in the past, had he known about Wright's decision to give Duffy the money he would not have permitted it, and that as soon as he was made aware of the $90,000 cheque on May 15, he revealed it to the public.

Harper answered every question put to him by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau — unlike the day before, when Paul Calandra, the prime minister's parliamentary secretary, answered many of the questions in his place. He also answered every question put to him by opposition MPs.

Duffy alleged on Tuesday that he had a meeting with the prime minister and Wright after caucus on Feb. 13 where Harper ordered Duffy to repay his ineligible expenses.

Harper did not deny having asked Duffy to repay his expenses.

"Mr. Duffy now says he is a victim because I told him he should repay his expenses. You're darn right I told him to repay his expenses," Harper said.

The prime minister said he made his statements "not just to Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright but many others who were present and who heard them." 

According to Duffy, it was Harper — not Wright — who provided the political solution that Duffy's expenses must be repaid. 

The prime minister has consistently maintained that Wright acted alone when he decided to cut Duffy a cheque.

Harper said he did not threaten Duffy with expulsion but he did expect the senator to repay his expenses "and not Mr. Wright to repay them for him."

Earlier in the day, Conservative MPs emerged from their weekly caucus meeting saying they believed the prime minister's version of events over Duffy's.

But NDP Leader Tom Mulcair told reporters after a meeting with his caucus that Duffy's speech in the Senate on Tuesday puts the prime minister directly at the centre of the Senate expenses scandal.

"This is a profound scandal that directly implicates Stephen Harper," Mulcair said during a scrum on Parliament Hill.

Mulcair said the Senate expenses scandal is no longer about the $90,000 cheque Nigel Wright, Harper's former chief of staff, gave to Duffy to repay his ineligible expenses. 

"This is about Stephen Harper. He has to start telling the truth to the public. The public has a right to know," Mulcair said.

During question period, Mulcair asked Harper whether he had any involvement in the Senate's motion to have Senators Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin suspended from the upper chamber.

Harper said the Senate leadership had the motion approved by the Conservative Senate caucus, a motion he said he fully supported.

"I fully support the motion. I do not believe that under the circumstances these individuals should be on the public payroll," Harper said.

While Harper fired back at Duffy in the Commons, Wallin was in the Senate defending herself against the motion that would have her suspended without pay.

After a meeting with his caucus, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it was time the prime minister showed some leadership.

"A leader takes responsibility when things go wrong and this prime minister has consistently avoided taking any responsibility for this sordid mess," Trudeau told reporters gathered on Parliament Hill.

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