Liberals try new tack to explore PMO interference in Duffy audit

OTTAWA – Liberal senators are trying a new tactic to get to the bottom of allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office interfered in an independent audit of Mike Duffy’s expenses.

James Cowan, Liberal leader in the Senate, has given notice that he will argue today that the interference constitutes a breach of senators’ privileges.

And he’ll ask Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella to rule on the matter.

If Kinsella determines there was, at face value, a breach of privilege, the matter would be referred to a Senate committee for further study.

That could give Liberals another opportunity to try to call two key witnesses alleged to have been involved in the audit interference: Conservative Sen. Irving Gerstein and Deloitte managing partner Michael Runia.

Two previous Liberal attempts to get Runia to testify at the Senate’s internal economy committee were defeated by the Conservatives, who hold a majority in the upper house.

And Gerstein ruled out of order Wednesday a Liberal attempt to have him step aside as chairman of the Senate banking committee until he’s cleared by the RCMP or agrees to testify at internal economy about his role in the matter.

In a notice today to the Senate clerk, Cowan says he’s been forced to raise a question of privilege on the matter because “all other reasonable avenues of redress have been blocked.”

According to witness statements and emails obtained by the RCMP and filed in court, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, enlisted Gerstein’s help in concocting a deal in which Duffy would repay $90,000 in questionable living expense claims.

Duffy agreed to the deal on condition that he would be reimbursed the full amount, that a Senate report on his conduct would not be critical of him and that there would be no question about his eligibility to sit as a senator from Prince Edward Island, although he lived primarily in Ottawa.

Gerstein, who heads the Conservative party’s fundraising arm, initially agreed that the party would reimburse Duffy — when the tab was thought to be $32,000 — but balked when it became clear it was more than $90,000. Wright eventually reimbursed Duffy out of his own pocket.

At Wright’s behest, Gerstein also talked to Runia, who audits the Conservative party’s books, to ensure the audit would make no finding as to whether Duffy’s primary residence was in Ottawa or P.E.I.

Gary Timm, lead auditor on the Duffy file, has confirmed Runia called him but maintains he imparted no information about the confidential audit and that its findings were not influenced by anyone.

However, Cowan notes that the RCMP documents show Wright and other top PMO aides knew — one month before the findings were disclosed to the Senate which ordered and paid for the audit — that it would make no finding about Duffy’s primary residence because the senator was refusing to speak to auditors.

Indeed, Cowan argues that PMO interference “began virtually from inception,” even before the internal economy committee announced its decision to order an external audit of expenses claimed by Duffy and two other senators — Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb.

The RCMP documents say Wright called committee chair David Tkachuk, asking that the wording of the audit announcement “differentiate” Duffy’s case from that of Brazeau and Harb, a request which was accommodated by adding an extra line that the committee was seeking legal advice about Duffy’s residency.




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Liberals try new tack to explore PMO interference in Duffy audit

  1. I appreciate Senator Cowan’s ongoing struggle to bring his fellow senators back to the chamber of sober second thought from the black hole where they now reside. Shameful conduct by the 51 Conservative senators who voted to block Runia and Gerstein from testifying at committee regarding their interference in the Deloitte audit. Any Consevatives with a conscience have resigned from the Senate leaving the truly spineless flock to follow the orders from the PMO.

    • What’s truly shameful is that the Liberals in the Senate are now defaming a reputable private business in a lame effort to try to embarrass the Conservative’s. Remember what happened to NDP MP Pat Martin when he tried a similar stunt? He lost a million-dollar law suit and had to go begging to unions to pay it off.

      Not to mention the fact that Liberals will now be making enemies out of all auditors in the country. That won’t ever help them.

      • When someone in your office calls you on behalf of the PMO and asks questions about your audit, I would begin to think they were trying to influence me. I heard the auditors on TV say they didn’t think it was necessary to tell anyone about the telephone call because they didn’t disclose any information. One question I would like to ask Runia, is how common place it is to try and manipulate an audit, or was this a special favor to the PMO because their firm audits the conservative books?

        • If someone from the PMO called and asked questions, I would simply assume they were curious, and asking questions. I wouldn’t start jumping to conclusions that it was some type of sly, subtle form of influence.

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