Back in February, Mike Duffy announced that, in order to turn the page, he would be repaying the housing allowance he had claimed as a senator.
Last night, CTV reported that there was some kind of deal between Mr. Duffy and Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. This morning, CTV reports that Mr. Wright wrote a cheque for the $90,172 in question, apparently as a gift from Mr. Wright to Mr. Duffy. The Canadian Press reports that the Prime Minister was not aware of the gift.
Here is the official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Government believes that taxpayers should not be on the hook for improper expense claims made by Senators.
Mr. Duffy agreed to repay the expenses because it was the right thing to do. However, Mr. Duffy was unable to make a timely repayment.
Mr. Wright therefore wrote a cheque from his personal account for the full amount owing so that Mr. Duffy could repay the outstanding amount.
The independent external audit by Deloitte looking into Senate expenses was completed and the results tabled.
Mr. Duffy has reimbursed taxpayers for his impugned claims. Mr. Harb and Mr. Brazeau should pay taxpayers back immediately.
Update 1:35pm. The NDP wants an “independent investigation” into this entire matter and they allege “unethical behaviour” inside the Prime Minister’s Office, but it’s not yet entirely clear how the Conflict of Interest Act or the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code should be applied in a situation such as this. I’ve asked the Ethics Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer for comment.
Update 2:33pm. The ethics commissioner’s office corrects me: the Conflict of Interest Act doesn’t apply to Mike Duffy. As a Senator, he is covered by the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code. Mr. Wright is covered, as a public office holder, by the Act, but there’s no indication that he received a gift here. Otherwise, I’m told “Commissioner Dawson is reviewing this matter in order to determine how the other provisions of the Act might apply, and is following up with Mr. Wright.”
Senator Duffy has not yet commented, but CTV’s Robert Fife’s has referred to “financial problems” and concerns that, because of health issues, Mr. Duffy’s wife might left with a debt to pay. The Canadian Press adds similar context.
A government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Wright and Duffy are friends and that Wright offered the money as a gift rather than a loan. Duffy had been experiencing financial difficulties, the source said.
Update 4:59pm. A statement from Senator David Tkachuk, chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee.
There have been inquiries in the press recently about untoward influence on the Senate Committee on Internal Economy’s conduct of its work involving Senator Mike Duffy’s living expense claims. The Steering Committee of Internal Economy referred Senator Duffy to independent auditors. This was supported by leadership on both sides, the point being that in the interest of propriety the issue should be dealt with at arm’s length. We on the committee conducted ourselves appropriately throughout this whole process. We made available to Deloitte all documents in the hands of our Finance Directorate pertaining to Senator Duffy’s expense claims for the entire period of the audit. We had no control – nor did we wish to have control – over what Deloitte would conclude.
The Star has reviewed some of the concerns raised about the Senate’s investigation.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Press reviews Senator Duffy’s role as a Conservative fundraiser.
Update 5:32pm. The Sun seems to have the only comment, such as it is, from Senator Duffy today.
The former television host wouldn’t comment Wednesday. “I can’t talk and I’m not talking,” he said when reached by phone.
Update 5:57pm. John Geddes considers Nigel Wright, Mike Duffy and the Senate’s Conflict of Interest Code. Here is what Section 17 of the Code states.
Prohibition: gifts and other benefits
17. (1) Neither a Senator, nor a family member, shall accept, directly or indirectly, any gift or other benefit, except compensation authorized by law, that could reasonably be considered to relate to the Senator’s position.
(2) A Senator, and a family member, may, however, accept gifts or other benefits received as a normal expression of courtesy or protocol, or within the customary standards of hospitality that normally accompany the Senator’s position.
Statement: gift or other benefit
(3) If a gift or other benefit that is accepted under subsection (2) by a Senator or his or her family members exceeds $500 in value, or if the total value of all such gifts or benefits received from one source in a 12-month period exceeds $500, the Senator shall, within 30 days after the gift or benefit is received or after that total value is exceeded, as the case may be, file with the Senate Ethics Officer a statement disclosing the nature and value of the gifts or other benefits, their source and the circumstances under which they were given.
Update 6:20pm. Kady O’Malley offers her thoughts on Section 17 and whether Mr. Wright’s gift constitutes a violation of the Code.
Update 8:33pm. Global adds some context on the relationship between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy.
An official speaking on background said Wright and Duffy go back to the 1980s during the Brian Mulroney days.
The Globe notes that Mr. Wright worked in Mr. Mulroney’s PMO.
What this amounts to seems, to me, to depend on whether Mr. Wright’s cheque was inappropriate or merely odd. That’s at least the question I’m still trying to sort out.
Update 11:19pm. CTV has now posted the latest report from Robert Fife—click on the video—including Senator Duffy’s denial last night that Mr. Wright was involved and Conservative sources who say Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright were not close friends.