Mike Duffy's primary home not P.E.I., unedited Senate report says
Original document says expenses for winterized cottage should not have been claimed
A copy of the original report by an internal Senate committee on Senator Mike Duffy's expense claims, obtained by CBC News, makes it clear the committee believes Duffy's primary residence is in Ottawa, and not in P.E.I.
The unedited report, written by members of the Senate committee on internal economy, says Duffy's "continued presence in his Ottawa residence over the years," as well as his travel patterns, do not support his declaration that his primary residence is his winterized cottage in P.E.I.
These findings were left out of an edited report on Duffy's expenses released May 9 by the Senate.
Duffy had declared his P.E.I. cottage as his primary residence, and had been claiming living expenses and per diems worth up to $22,000 a year for his home in suburban Ottawa, the place he designated as his secondary residence.
The same kinds of paragraphs about the clarity of residency rules and disbelief about claims of primary residence were omitted from the public reports on senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau. Both were ordered to repay money for inappropriately claiming they had secondary residences in Ottawa.
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In Duffy's case, both the original report and the publicly released version note that Duffy repaid $90,000 to reimburse the Senate for expenses he claimed he "may have been mistaken" in filing for.
A paragraph about Duffy's lawyer was also removed from the edited report. The accounting firm Deloitte, which conducted a forensic audit on Duffy's expenses, asked to meet with him after he had repaid the money.
The original, unedited report says that Duffy's lawyer wrote Deloitte saying its review was no longer necessary, adding that the "considerable time" and "public expense" involved in compiling documents for the review was no longer needed in Duffy's case.
Two Conservatives and a Liberal on the committee guided the review of Duffy's expenses.
The Conservatives were David Tkachuk, the committee chair, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former press secretary, Carolyn Stewart Olsen.
Both versions of the reports on Duffy were signed by Tkachuk, who told reporters, when the edited report was released May 9, Duffy's case was "closed." The Liberal senator, George Furey, made it clear that the findings were not unanimous.
Opposition leaders and a Liberal senator said Wednesday the changes amounted to a "whitewash," and pointed fingers at the Prime Minister's Office.
"Stephen Harper was dictating the results of these so-called investigations," said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Marjory LeBreton, government leader in the Senate, was asked about the different wording of the reports on Tuesday night during the Senate's question period.
"In internal economy, there was a discussion about the wording of the reports. The wording for Senators Harb and Brazeau was there to facilitate the payment of monies that we wanted to get them to return. In the case of Senator Duffy, my understanding is that there was a debate in internal economy. I was not there," she said.
LeBreton said she is not aware of any conversations between Harper's office and Tkachuk.
Duffy says his actions 'do not merit criticism'
Duffy, who hadn't made any public comments since he left the Conservative caucus last Thursday over the controversy, said Wednesday that when Canadians know all the facts about his spending claims they will conclude that his actions "do not merit criticism."
On Tuesday night, the Senate voted to send the internal economy committee report into a Deloitte audit on Duffy's expenses back to the committee for another review.
"Yesterday, the Senate referred the issue of my expenses to the Senate board of internal economy. I welcome this development. Canadians deserve to know all of the facts," Duffy said in a written statement Wednesday. "I am confident that when they do they will conclude, as Deloitte has already concluded, that my actions regarding expenses do not merit criticism."
"I intend to co-operate fully with the board and with all other authorities and will have no further public comments until those processes are complete," said Duffy.
Duffy was in the Senate chamber Wednesday, sitting as an Independent beside Pam Wallin. Wallin recused herself from the Conservative caucus on Friday, while her expenses continue to be audited. She declined to answer any questions Wednesday about how the audit is going and if she has paid any money back.
"As I said last Friday — and on several occasions — I have been fully co-operating with the auditors and my office is working hard to ensure every question is answered and every possible document is provided to them."
Liberal senators asked LeBreton if she would allow the committee to hold meetings in an "open and transparent" way while it investigates Duffy.
The Senate committee of internal economy, which both sets and monitors senators' expense claims, almost always meets behind closed doors, and is so secretive even political staffers can't attend.
In a letter to LeBreton, released to the media, Liberal Senate leader James Cowan spoke of the "widespread media stories questioning whether the proceedings of the committee on the original report were conducted in an impartial and independent manner."
LeBreton replied she intends to respect the will of the committee, where Conservatives have a majority.
Allegations of a 'whitewash'
For days, the opposition has been accusing the Prime Minister's Office of reaching into the committee and influencing its Conservative senators into whitewashing Duffy's report.
In question period in the House of Commons Wednesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said, "We now know the Conservatives on the Senate internal economy used their majority to doctor the final report on Senator Duffy's expenses," and demanded an explanation.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, standing in for the prime minister, seemed taken aback. "The report does, did, in the end, reflect the fact that a …repayment did, had been made," he answered.
Liberal Senator Jim Munson, a member of the Senate's internal economy committee that dealt with Duffy's expenses audit, said an original report on the audit was changed and he alleged the Prime Minister's Office may have had something to do with the "whitewash."
"We feel that there has been political interference with the Prime Minister's Office in the workings of the Senate internal economy committee. Full stop," Munson said Wednesday morning. "We feel that Senator Duffy was given an easier ride than the other senators — that words were taken out of the original Senate report dealing with this and that the same wording should have been there in that particular Senate report."
Munson was asked if he saw the original report.
"I have seen the report, but I'm not going to get into the details of that report at all, because it was an in-camera meeting," he said. "But I can certainly talk in a point of principle that we weren't happy with what we saw and we were certainly not happy with what was changed at the very last minute. It was a whitewash."
Honourable but not perfect, LeBreton says
The controversy developed further last week when it was revealed that Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote a personal cheque to cover the $90,000 repayment. Wright resigned on Sunday and said that Harper did not know about the means by which Duffy paid the money back.
In the Senate Wednesday afternoon, LeBreton gave a lengthy speech during debate on proposed rule changes to the way senators' claim expenses that were part of the committee's response to the audits. She said the Senate is facing a crisis because the Conservatives made the upper chamber more accountable and transparent.
It was her party that forced senators to make their expenses public, she said, and had it not done so there would be "no hyped-up media stories" or public outrage.
"We are not perfect, but we have conducted ourselves in an appropriate and honourable way," she said. LeBreton said the proposed rule changes to travel and other expenses will fix "the mess" in the Senate and ensure the rules are clear.
"There is no broom and there is no carpet here. These changes are going to be made," she said.
Gordon Barnhardt, who as clerk to the Senate was its administrator in the early '90s, welcomes the changes. Barnhardt, speaking from Saskatoon, said that although he administered the Senate, much of the control of senators' expense claims rested with the committee on internal economy.
Barnhardt told Rosemary Barton of CBC News Network's Power & Politics about senators' 64-point system for trips back and forth from their home provinces.
"If you had special permission from a committee, which is usually given, you could go from Ottawa on your way to Saskatoon, but through Brussels, and as long as you were in Saskatoon on your way back to Ottawa, that counted as one of your trips, even though you had really gone to Europe. So that really thwarted the main point of that policy, and that was for senators to go from Parliament back to their constituents, the region they represented," he said.
Sounding frustrated, Barnhardt added, "I used to say to them, you can't do that, because it's amoral or unethical or illegal, and they'd say, 'No, that doesn't matter, we're not accountable.'"
Barnhardt just finished a six-year term as lieutenant-governor of Saskatchewan. He was appointed by Harper.
The NDP, meanwhile, launched a new campaign calling for the Senate to be abolished, a long-standing NDP policy. Mulcair said a new website will allow Canadians to voice their opposition to the Senate.
"The Stephen Harper who talked about the Senate in 2005 said if it can't be reformed, it should be abolished. Well, we're going to try to hold Stephen Harper to his word. The Senate cannot be reformed," Mulcair told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"You can't reform something that contains people who have never been elected, who don't understand the very principles of our democracy and are behaving as the ones that we've have just seen in the last week."
with files from James Cudmore