Mike Duffy will face a battle if he wants back pay, senior Tory senators say
'There is no appetite among senators to revisit this,' chair of Senate's administrative committee says
The former Conservative government leader in the Senate says she has no regrets about voting to suspend Mike Duffy without pay at the height of the expenses scandal, and she sees no recourse for the P.E.I. senator to claim back pay.
"When you look at the motion we passed [to suspend Duffy], we weren't adjudicating on criminality. We were using rules within the Senate — legitimate rules — to discipline," Marjory LeBreton said in an interview with CBC News.
"We were acting absolutely properly. I don't think there was any wording or decision at the time that this was subject to reversal. We're not going to go back now and undo an action in the last Parliament that was taken for good and valid reasons," she said.
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Duffy, along with Senators Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, was suspended from the upper house in November 2013 after much debate. Their pay and most benefits were withheld for nearly two years but restored when former prime minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament to call the last election.
"I followed all the rules regarding expenses. I wasn't trying to rip off the government, the Senate or Canadians," Duffy said at the time, calling the whole process a "witch hunt."
'No appetite' to revisit
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, the chair of the powerful internal economy committee, also said Friday that he stands by the Senate's move to suspend Duffy and he thinks a request for back pay could fall on deaf ears.
"There is no appetite among senators to revisit this. It brings back some very tumultuous times," he added, noting the disciplinary actions against Duffy were entirely at the discretion of the Senate and are separate from his criminal trial.
"There is a common misconception that the disciplinary issues overlap with the charges at trial. They don't. There are a number of areas we looked at that were never explored during the criminal trial. An example is per diems."
The comments come after Housakos and the vice-chair of the committee, Senator Jane Cordy, said they now consider Duffy's expenses file closed and will not refer him to the auditor general for further review.
"Senator Duffy et al. were audited by [outside auditor] Deloitte and were dealt with accordingly, including reimbursement of funds and suspension," they said in a joint statement. "The mandate given to the [Office of the Auditor General] by the Senate has concluded."
Duffy famously repaid his living expenses with the help of Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who cut a cheque for $90,000.
But other expenses, including some $50,000 in travel expenses and $60,000 in service contracts routed through Duffy's friend Gerry Donohue, which were examined as part of his criminal trial, were not initially identified as problematic by Senate administration.
The Senate could still push Duffy to repay those expenses if they are found to be inappropriate, or use it as a bargaining chip against the senator if he pushes for back pay, sources said.
Duffy's lawyer calls for back pay
LeBreton, who was the public face of the Harper government in the Red Chamber before her mandatory retirement last summer, said that senators are masters of their own houses, and they felt some of Duffy's expenses were an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds.
"No one is now second-guessing whether we should have [suspended Duffy]," she said.
Duffy's defence lawyer, Donald Bayne, however, takes a much different stand on the issue. He said in an interview with CBC Radio's The House that he believes his client deserves some sort of compensation for the whole ordeal.
"If I was him, I would certainly demand back the withheld pay. That was a suspension without pay [based on a] presumption of guilt, contrary to the presumption of innocence, contrary to the rule of law in this country," Bayne said.
"For those who say, well we have parliamentary privilege — some even went so far as to say that this was a charter-free zone — this is not what the public wants to hear from our legislators. They want to hear due process and justice — and part of justice for Mike Duffy is making him whole in what he was denied."
Duffy had all of the 31 criminal charges for fraud, breach of trust and bribery dismissed by Justice Charles Vaillancourt on April 21.
He can now return to the Senate as if the three-year long saga never happened. He is free to hire staff, occupy his Centre Block office and use Senate resources as he sees fit (but in accordance with Senate administrative rules, of course).
With files from Evan Dyer