Inside Politics

Tories force debate over Wright/Duffy inquiry behind closed doors

If Liberal MP Scott Andrews gets his way, the PM may soon find himself on the receiving end of an official invitation to appear before a House committee to discuss that now notorious $90,000 Senate expense repayment plan between his former chief of staff Nigel Wright and embattled Senator Mike Duffy.

Later today, Andrews, the lone Liberal member of the ethics committee, will get his first -- and, most likely, only -- opportunity to convince his colleagues to back his all for a full parliamentary investigation into the circumstances surrounding the "conduct of officials in the Prime Minister's Office in this process."

As reported in our latest Senate expense scandal roundup, Andrews is hoping to bring forward his motion this afternoon, when the committee is already scheduled to meet to deal with other business.

Besides the PM, Wright and Duffy, Andrews' putative witness list includes:

  • Ray Novak, the longtime aide who took over as chief after Wright resigned his post;
  • Benjamin Perrin, former PMO legal affairs advisor, who was alleged to have been involved in the negotiations with Duffy, a claim he has publicly rejected;
  • Conservative Senate Leader Marjory LeBreton, who has been taking the lead on the file in the Upper House and on the news circuit; and
  • Senate internal economy committee chair David Tkachuk, who recently confirmed to Macleans reporter Aaron Wherry that he did, indeed, speak with Wright, as well as other unspecified PMO officials throughout committee deliberations on the Duffy report.

The full text of the Andrews motion:

That the Committee hold hearings on the conduct of public office holders in relation to the handling of the repayment of Senate expenses by Senator Mike Duffy and the conduct of officials in the Prime Minister`s Office in this process, and that the witness list include but not be limited to:

• Nigel Wright
• Benjamin Perrin
• Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister
• Ray Novak

And that, in the context of this study, the Committee table a report in the House asking that the House send a message to the Senate requesting the appearance before the Committee of the following Senators:

• Senator Mike Duffy
• Senator David Tkachuk
• Senator Marjory LeBreton

In any case, barring a sudden change of protocol on the Conservative side of the table, however, that discussion, as well as any subsequent vote, will almost certainly be held behind closed doors, thus leaving the ultimate fate of the motion officially unknown.

UPDATE: As predicted, despite a surprise floor-seizing midway through witness questioning, Andrews' efforts to force the government side to vote down his proposal in full view of the cameras was ultimately thwarted; although he did manage to put his case for holding public hearings into the conduct of the PM's current and former staff on the record.

Interestingly, before moving the expected motion to take the matter behind closed doors, Conservative MP Chris Warkentin, who has become the de facto lead for his party at Ethics, did hint that his colleagues might be willing to support the pitch if it was expanded to cover those current and former Liberal MPs caught in rental expense-related rule breaches a few years back. 

In any case, we'll have to wait for the minutes to come out to find out the dramatic conclusion. Stay tuned! 

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