OTTAWA – Sen. Mike Duffy is dispensing more bombshell revelations in the Senate, this time about a second payment related to his ongoing expense scandal.
Duffy says Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton was involved in a scheme to cover his $13,560 legal bill.
He says Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, had to “coax” him into agreeing to pay back $90,000 in disputed expense claims.
It was the revelation that Wright himself paid back Duffy’s expenses that brought the Senate scandal to the prime minister’s front door.
“Not only that, but when I insisted on written guarantees that repaying money I didn’t owe would not be seen by the Senate as a guilty plea, Nigel Wright arranged to have my legal fees paid,” Duffy told a rapt upper chamber.
“That’s right. One cheque from Nigel Wright? No, ladies and gentlemen, there were two cheques — at least two cheques.”
An audible gasp went up from the gathered senators.
“The PMO, listen to this, had the Conservative party’s lawyer Arthur Hamilton pay my legal fees. He paid for my lawyer. Arthur Hamilton. A cheque for $13,560. That’s right, senators, not one payment, but two.”
The revelations kept coming.
“I’ve never seen a cheque from Nigel Wright,” Duffy added.
“But I do have the cheque stub and transmittal letter from Arthur Hamilton, the Conservative party’s lawyer.”
Duffy says the payments were part of an elaborate plan orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s Office to make the controversy over his expenses go away.
And he says even the story cooked up about Duffy borrowing the $90,000 from a bank was scripted up by the PMO — and he has the email to prove it.
Harper used Duffy’s claim of remortgaging his own home as proof the senator’s words could not be trusted last week.
He says he was well within the rules in filing his expenses, and that the true amount of claims that were in violation of the rules totalled less than $500.
Motion to suspend embattled senators
Debate is set to continue on Monday on the proposed motions to suspend Senators Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau without pay.
In the meantime, according to reports, Claude Carignan, the Conservative leader in the senate, is considering lighter sentences for the three senators.
Carignan is suggesting he’s open to amending the suspension measures against Brazeau and Wallin, though he appears less willing to do so for Duffy.
Some Conservative senators have complained that the hard line against the senators ignores due process and the rule of law.
Brazeau claims offer of ‘backroom deal’
The debate did have its fair share of drama with a political bombshell on Friday.
Sen. Brazeau said he was offered a backroom deal on Friday morning just before the government announced it’s going to shut down debate on the motions and try to vote on them Tuesday afternoon.
Brazeau rose to ask a question on a Liberal amendment but he shocked those in the upper chamber with his revelation.
He said the leader of the government in the senate approached him on Friday morning and told him if he admitted guilt and apologized in public, then he may get a lighter sentence than Wallin or Duffy.
“I’m very disturbed at this. I’m saddened. Because you know what? I am taking responsibility. I’m here defending my name. I’m here asking for an open and public meeting which you guys are denying,” Brazeau said.
The leader, Carignan, admitted the meeting took place but says any talk of a deal is ridiculous.
He said he was merely trying to make suggestions to Brazeau so he can better help himself.
This comes following a week of similar accusations from Duffy and Wallin. They claimed they were intimidated and threatened by senate leadership, and talk of a detailed cover-up involving the Prime Minister’s Office.
Vote on proposed suspension
The Conservatives in the Senate have given notice of their intent to bring the proposed suspension of three former Tories to a vote as early as mid-week.
While a number of senators have argued against any rush to judgment on the trio, the Conservatives are pushing for a quick end to the politically damaging fight.
A Conservative motion would set a timetable for a vote on all the suspensions and any proposed amendments and subamendments in one fell swoop.
The motion, introduced by Sen. Yonah Martin, the deputy government leader in the Senate, opens by stating that “notwithstanding any provisions of the rules or usual practice” the votes should go ahead at the earliest possible date.
That looks like it could come around next Wednesday — in time to have the three senators booted from the upper chamber before Conservatives gather next weekend for a policy convention in Calgary.
The three targeted senators said their suspensions are all about internal party optics in advance of the convention.
The Senate expenses imbroglio has been carrying on for the better part of year and Senate deliberations were delayed for full month this fall when Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament.
Carignan, Harper’s appointee as Conservative leader in the Senate, was at loss Friday to explain the urgency of suspending Brazeau, Duff and Wallin immediately.
“It’s a very important issue. I suppose it is very important because you are all here,” he said, nodding to the media throng.
“So if it’s so much important (for the news media), it’s important for the Senate also to decide on this motion.”
Even some Conservative senators are complaining about the haste and lack of due process in suspending three senators who have been charged with no crime.
James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, noted Friday that the government hasn’t even moved its own speech from the throne for Senate approval — the ostensible reason that Parliament’s opening was delayed by a month this fall.
Instead, the upper chamber has been consumed by a suspension motion against three senators even as an RCMP investigation continues into the matter.
Cowan wants the suspension question sent to a Senate committee where its legality, fairness and utility can be fully examined.
On Thursday, a former president of the federal Conservative Party defied the Harper government over its move to suspend the trio.
Tory Sen. Don Plett said he can’t support this motion because he believes it’s unfair not to have a proper hearing before deciding on suspensions.
He joins Sen. Hugh Segal in voting against his party, but Plett denied he’s at odds with the Prime Minister, even though he’s dismissing a motion supported by Harper.
However, Carignan, doesn’t believe there is any deep division in his caucus over the motion.
“It’s not a whipped vote and they have rights to speak. We have strong support from our caucus and I’m very confident,” Carignan said.