Inside Politics

Tkachuk disputes Wallin's account of mid-audit conversation

In her statement last night, Senator Pamela Wallin admitted that she had removed "irrelevant, private and personal" information from her official calendar before handing it over to the auditors, but averred that she did so because had been "advised" to "only include information relevant to the actual expenses being claimed."

As such, she explained, those deleted entries -- which, according to as yet unconfirmed media reports, relate specifically to several appearances at Conservative party fundraisers --were not "an attempt to mislead Deloitte in any way."

During a somewhat tense pre-meeting appearance at the microphone earlier this morning, former audit subcommittee chair Senator David Tkachuk took issue with Wallin's assertion that she had simply been following his advice, although he did acknowledge that the two had, in fact, discussed the Deloitte investigation while it was still underway, and that he had suggested that she "keep her calendar clean":

I never told her to do anything like that. All I did was told her to keep her calendar clean ... It was a passing comment in an hour-long conversation where I said, ``Make sure that you submit what you have to submit and leave all the irrelevant material off your calendar." 

So if you travelled somewhere and you're making a travel claim, the fact that you went to have another appointment isn't relevant to that travel claim whatsoever, so you don't have to put that in your calendar. Submit what was asked for. [...]

If she did something wrong, no one told her to do it. Certainly not me. I was the chair of the audit committee, I was trying to move the process along, and I never, ever told her to omit anything that was relevant." 

As reporters were quick to point out, however, Tkachuk has already acknowledged having a remarkably similar-sounding conversation with another embattled then-Conservative senator while the audit process was underway:

Reporter: But didn't you say to Mike Duffy when he was in Florida, change things around.

Tkachuk: No, I didn't. You know better than that. [...] You should read the media that other people are writing. What i told him to do was to write me a letter and explain what happened and send a copy to the auditor which is exactly what he did.

It's fair to say that's a somewhat different characterization of the mid-April exchange with Duffy than Tkachuk provided when he was queried about the issue earlier this spring, when it was alleged that he had warned him that the auditors had uncovered additional per diem-related discrepancies in his files.

From the Duffy/Wright timeline entry for April 18th, 2013:

[...] Duffy sends a confidential letter to Tkachuk, in which he notes that, following the "informal conversation" on April 16th -- presumably but not explicitly stated to be with Tkachuk -- he has "discovered that through a clerical error, per diems were inadvertently charged for several days when I was not in the National Capital Region," which he blames on a 'temporary worker' in his office.

He offers to "reimburse the Senate without hesitation," and says he would also be "happy to appear before [the] committee or subcommittee or auditors from Deloitte" to answer questions "on this or .. .my residency in PEI."

In a later interview with Maclean's reporter Aaron Wherry, Tkachuk confirms that he did indeed speak to Duffy about expense claims that were reportedly filed for a date on which the Deloitte auditors had confirmed he was actually in Florida.

According to Tkachuk's account, upon learning of those expenses, he "sort of put that in [his] noggin," and "went to see Mike" to let him know that he had a "problem," and had "better straighten this out and get [himself] organized."

Duffy, he recalled, asked him what he should do, and Tkachuk advised him to write a letter to the auditors, at which point Duffy asked if he could write that letter to Tkachuk instead, who replied that he "didn't care" to whom Duffy wrote the letter, but stressing that it should go to the auditors, which, as per Tkachuk, "was exactly what he did."

In Tkachuk's view, he "tipped him off about nothing" -- in fact, he "actually helped the audit find out that he had, I think, 12 days billed during that time."

Interestingly, it appears that those tetes-a-tetes between Tkachuk and two of the four senators whose expenses were under investigation may have taken place at the same time --specifically, on April 16th, the same day that the auditors presented their initial findings at a closed-door meeting of the three-member subcommittee that Tkachuk chaired at the time.

That, however, will have to wait for the release of the full report -- now expected to happen at approximately 2pm this afternoon -- to confirm. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Well, the report is out -- and yes, it turns out that both conversations took place on April 16th, just hours after Tkachuk, as then-chair of the audit subcommittee, had gotten his first look at the preliminary report from Deloitte.

In fact, according to a July 26th letter from Wallin's lawyer, Terrence O'Sullivan, which is included as an appendix to today's report, Tkachuk actually provided her with a copy of the draft report, "on a confidential basis," which "described the concerns that had been expressed by Deloitte regarding the material supplied so far (the 17 items)."

Tkachuk then "expressed his view that he would have allowed all the claims (with the possible exception of 1 or 2) but that he had been 'voted down' by Senator Stewart-Olson and the Liberal member of the committee."

As per O'Sullivan's letter, "he also opined that one of the reasons the process was taking so long was that Senator Wallin was supplying too much information," and suggested that "further submissions should be restricted to that information which was tired to specific travel claims." He also informed her that the original mandate for the audit "had been expanded."

At that point, O'Sullivan writes, after being asked for further information, "taking what seemed to be perfectly logical advice from Senator Tkachuk to heart, the decision was made to create spreadsheet calendars for Deloitte which contained as much information on Senate related activities as possible but which did not contain information regarding events unrelated to the Senate including personal matters."

Tkachuk, however, offers a markedly different recollection of events in his August 6 response to the O'Sullivan letter, which is also included in the Deloitte report.

In it, he denies providing Wallin with a copy of the preliminary report, "for the simple reason that there was no preliminary report to give her," although he admits to passing along the list of the 17 claims "for which they sought direction," which he "presented [to Wallin] for explanation ... with the full and unanimous agreement" of his steering committee colleagues.

As for telling her he would have allowed all but one or two of the claims, Tkachuk acknowledges that he disagreed with the other subcommittee members "on some of the claims," but ultimately, they "agreed unanimously on the ones that should be allowed, the ones that should be denied, and the ones that warranted further consideration."

(It's worth noting that just why the three-person steering committee was making such judgement calls in the midst of an ostensibly independent audit is not explained.)

Finally, Tkachuk doesn't dispute advising Wallin on the amount of information to be provided to Deloitte, but "wants to make it clear that [he] was referring only to ... her calendar," noting that he "was of the opinion that, in the interest of efficiency, she should restrict herself to the information that the auditors asked for and that they needed to conduct their investigation."

So, what can we glean from the above exchange, in context of what we've already deduced from the previous comments outlined above? 

Well, first of all, that Tkachuk does appear to have been making a special effort to defuse the potentially incendiary findings against both Duffy and Wallin. 

Secondly, that the confidentiality surrounding the audit process itself was not, perhaps, as strictly observed as might have been expected. 

Finally, if we turn our attention once more to that May 23 Maclean's interview with Tkachuk, it's clear that at the same time that he was offering his advice to the two then-still Conservative senators at the centre of the Senate controversy, he was also in touch with then-PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright, as well as other caucus and government colleagues. 

Were they aware that he was counselling them to take preemptive action to avert -- or, at least, attempt to minimize -- coming revelations in the ongoing scandal that, he told Maclean's, was 'hurting us politically'? 

Expect that very same question to be put to the PM when the House returns later this fall.  


Read those letters here:

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.