OTTAWA – Sen. Marjory LeBreton refuted Thursday various allegations made by embattled Sen. Mike Duffy about how Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his staff and the Senate leadership pressured him to pay back improper housing and living expenses, even though he believed he’d done nothing wrong.
LeBreton, government leader in the Senate at the time, was named by Duffy as part of a “conspiracy” to force him to accept a secret deal — in which Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave him $90,000 to reimburse his expense claims, or face expulsion from the Senate.
Here is a partial transcript of LeBreton’s remarks in the Senate on Thursday:
Duffy’s claim: “So after caucus on Feb. 13 of this year, I met the prime minister and Nigel Wright, just the three of us.”
LeBreton’s rebuttal: “The exchange at the conclusion of the Feb. 13 caucus has been reported in the media many times…. This was the one and only exchange between the prime minister and Sen. Duffy on this matter, in the caucus room at the conclusion of the caucus meeting.”
Duffy’s claim: “An undertaking was made by the PMO, with the agreement of the Senate leadership, that I would not be audited by Deloitte, that I’d be given a pass and, further, if this phoney scheme (Wright’s payment) ever became public, Sen. LeBreton … would whip the Conservative caucus to prevent my expulsion from the chamber.”
LeBreton’s rebuttal: “This is false. Not one single person ever suggested to me that this be done. Never did I hear of such a scheme … There was not even a rumour around this place to that effect, illustrating how utterly preposterous this claim is.
“On the question of the Deloitte audit, where on earth did Sen. Duffy ever get the notion that I, as part of the Senate leadership, would agree that he would not be audited, that he would be given a pass? This is another blatant falsehood. I stated publicly many times that I fully supported the calling in of outside auditors … That statement (by Duffy) was a whopper.”
Duffy’s claim: “I was called at home in Cavendish (in May) by Ray Novak, senior assistant to the prime minister. He had with him Sen. LeBreton , leader of the government in the Senate. Sen. LeBreton was emphatic: The deal was off if I didn’t resign from the Conservative caucus within 90 minutes…. In addition, she said, if I didn’t quit caucus immediately, I’d be sent to the Senate ethics committee, with orders from the leadership to throw me out of the Senate. With Ray Novak, my wife and my sister listening in on the call, Sen. LeBreton was insistent: ‘You’ve got to do this, Mike. Do what I’m telling you. Quite the caucus within the next 90 minutes. It’s the only way to save your paycheque.'”
LeBreton’s rebuttal: I will now tell you what actually happened in that phone call … We laid before Sen. Duffy two scenarios. Scenario 1 was that I would put out a statement that Sen. Duffy has informed me that he has resigned from the caucus to sit as an independent senator. And Scenario 2 was that I would put out a statement saying that given the growing number of questions related to Sen. Duffy’s conduct, he has been removed from the Conservative caucus.
“Once he was presented with these options, I said to him, and I quote myself because I wrote my words down: ‘Mike, do the right thing and get out in front of this.’ Naturally, he did not take this news well…. Because I could tell he was concerned, I said the following in order to assure him that sitting as an independent did not impact on his position as a senator: ‘Mike,’ I said, ‘this is the only option that can ensure your future livelihood.’ A few angry words were spoken and he hung up on us.”
Duffy’s claim: “I’ve followed all the rules and I’ve got a ton of documentation, including a two-page memo from Sen. LeBreton’s office about it.”
LeBreton’s rebuttal: “What two-page memo? I have searched high and low and checked my files and, for the life of me, I can find no memo which supposedly gives my approval to Sen. Duffy to claim his property in Prince Edward Island as a principal residence in order to claim living expenses in Ottawa.
“This makes no sense…. The leader of the government in the Senate does not handle individual expenses or approve expense claims. To suggest that this mystery memo gives approval to Sen. Duffy regarding his potential expenses weeks before he is sworn into office stretches credulity.”