Harper says facts in Senate probe 'not good but clear'
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he doesn't have all the facts to judge suspended senators
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the facts in the Senate expenses probe "are not good but they are clear," on the same day his finance minister said he doesn't want to rush to judge the actions of the suspended senators because he doesn't have all the facts.
Harper was under attack again from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair during question period on Thursday over what the Prime Minister's Office knew about a secret deal to repay Senator Mike Duffy's ineligible expenses.
The facts in the Senate expenses probe "are not good but they are clear," Harper told the House of Commons.
"Mr. Duffy took expense money that we believe was not appropriate. Rather than repaying that money, as he had been asked and as he had claimed publicly, he took a cheque from Mr. [Nigel] Wright. That information was not accurately conveyed to me. When I learned that information, I made that information public," Harper said.
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- Mike Duffy complies with RCMP Senate probe for PMO emails
- Suspended senators to lose credit cards, phones, offices
Mulcair characterized Harper's answer as "progress."
"Good, bad. Some progress, " Mulcair said.
Harper repeatedly told the Commons on Thursday his office was not the subject of a Senate expenses investigation by the RCMP.
The prime minister said the RCMP are investigating Duffy for claiming ineligible expenses and Wright, his former chief of staff, for giving the senator $90,000 to repay the expenses in question.
"Those two individuals have been under — are under inquiry and investigation," the prime minister said.
Harper said he "noted with some interest" that Duffy has begun providing the RCMP with information they requested from him, as reported by CBC News on Wednesday.
The prime minister indicated for the first time in the Commons his office has also been providing the RCMP with information — a fact that had been confirmed to CBC News by Harper's spokesperson on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister's Office has at all times and in all manner provided all and any information that the RCMP is requesting.— Prime Minister Stephen Harper
"I can assure the House that the Prime Minister's Office has at all times and in all manner provided all and any information that the RCMP is requesting," Harper said.
CBC News has learned that Duffy recounts a conversation in which Wright supposedly described the PMO's chosen lines and a scenario including "cash for repayment," in one of the emails being turned over to the RCMP.
If so, that could help the Mounties establish whether that cash was an illegal inducement to get Duffy to go along with the alleged script.
Flaherty won't rush to judge suspended senators
While the facts may be clear to Harper, earlier in the day Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said he didn't want to rush to judge the actions of the suspended senators Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin, because he doesn't have all the facts.
I don't prejudge any of them because I don't know the facts of any one individual senator.— Jim Flaherty, federal finance minister
"I don't prejudge any of them because I don't know the facts of any one individual senator. I don't know what their expenses were. I haven't been through their expenses. So I'm very slow to judge any individual that way," Flaherty told reporters during a news conference in Toronto Thursday morning.
Flaherty's position appears to puts him at odds with Harper, who spent the last couple of weeks urging the Senate to vote on a motion to suspend the three senators without pay.
Harper, during question period on Wednesday, congratulated "the vast majority of Conservative senators" for taking disciplinary action against the three senators. The government repeatedly praised the Senate for doing Canadians proud by standing up for taxpayers.
The debate around a motion to suspend three senators without pay exposed a rift inside Harper's caucus with heavyweight Conservatives such as senators Hugh Segal and Don Plett urging their party to follow due process and wait for the RCMP to finish their investigation.
Segal was the only Conservative senator who voted against the motion to suspend all three senators without pay, while Plett was one of a handful of Conservative senators who abstained from voting.
The RCMP are investigating all three senators. No charges have been laid.
Flaherty supports abolishing the Senate
While Harper has spent the last seven years trying to reform the Senate, his finance minister is in favour of abolishing it
"I do think, this is my own view, not the government's view, the Senate itself is an anachronism. It purports to be a legislative chamber in a democracy but they are appointed people," Flaherty said on Thursday.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who was once an advocate of Senate reform, introduced a motion on Wednesday in the province's legislature to abolish the Senate.
"It's a good idea," Flaherty told reporters in Toronto.
"If you look back at Canadian history, the provinces that came together and formed our country all had so-called upper chambers. And it came from the English House of Lords. You know, let's get over that. And let's move on. I think Canadians are ready for democracy, " Flaherty said on Thursday.
Flaherty was at the Royal Ontario Museum to launch cross-country pre-budget consultations ahead of next year's federal budget.
Last week, the federal finance minister told reporters in Ottawa the Senate was a distraction to the economic agenda of the party.
With files from Terry Milewski