Conservative Senator David Tkachuk is the chair of the Senate’s internal economy committee and a member of that committee’s steering committee—the two committees involved in the investigation of Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses. Senator Tkachuk spoke with Maclean’s this morning about the deliberations of those committees, the report on Senator Duffy’s expenses and Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff. The following transcript has been abridged and slightly edited for clarity.
Q: First of all, in terms of the committee report, there’s obviously this controversy over certain sections that seem to have been taken out of an original draft to the report that we see now. Can you explain why those portions were taken out?
A: The original draft was a first draft that would have been written by the clerk of the committee for us after we had a long discussion about what the audit had said. The audit itself, we disagreed with parts of the audit, some major parts of the audit. In the case of Duffy, the audit was recommending that he pay back $1,200, that he said he was confused. Our view was that he shouldn’t have been and that he should not have invoiced for that money and that we should keep what he had already given us. There were some changes in the report, of course. It’s our report. We wrote the report. So steering committee writes the report, we then took the report to internal, there was an amendment made in internal and internal then presented the report into the Senate chamber for debate.
Q: What about though the impression that the portions that were taken out of that report made it less hard on Senator Duffy?
A: We didn’t try to make it less hard on him. What we tried to do was … what we did is we acknowledged the fact, in a way, that he had paid back the money and he said he might have been mistaken. We had hoped for an apology, but that wasn’t quite there, but he did pay back the money. And we thought that it was a little bit different and that we should be careful with our language. His money was paid back and so we were quite happy with that.
Q: So in a way was he given a bit of a break in that regard because he’d paid the money back?
A: Let’s put in this way: there were two recommendations in that report. The first one was that we keep the money. The second one was that we watch, that we put a sort of a cover over his expenses over the next year and both those were unanimously accepted by steering before it was presented to internal economy. So I don’t think he was given a break. He was given no break whatsoever actually. He suffered the same fate as everybody else. Was it as harshly written as the other two? No. But he had already said he was mistaken and he had paid back the money, so we didn’t think we should harshly write the report as the other two.
Q: There’s an incident, I believe after the report gets tabled, where Senator Furey stands up in the Senate and says there’s a dissent, or a Liberal dissent, to this report, or at least this is my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong. So was there some disagreement within the committee over how to handle the report on Senator Duffy?
A: First of all, what George said, actually he said this when I presented the reports and he moved a point of order, which was totally erroneous. His point of order was that because I was presenting the report that it was presumed to be unanimous, which isn’t true. No report is presumed to be unanimous, it’s just a report of the committee. So what he was trying to say is that it wasn’t unanimous. Well, so what? Very few reports are unanimous. A lot of reports aren’t unanimous. But there’s still reports of the committee because the majority rules. So in the case of the steering committee, there were certain amendments made that he agreed with and certain others that he did not. Then when we went to internal economy, there was an amendment made and it was passed.
Q: There’s also this question of a letter from Senator Duffy that refers to an informal conversation with you. That has been interpreted as a suggestion that you tipped him off to the problem. Can you explain that conversation that he is referring to?
A: What happened was that the auditors, what they do is they give you, to the audit committee, they did what they a call a presentation of facts, to make sure they got the facts correct. And then we have some debate, we have some discussion, with the auditors about what they’re trying to achieve and how long it’s going to take them and all this stuff. So when they came they said we have a telephone call that was from Florida and there was a billing made for a per diem that day. So I sort of put that in my noggin’ and thought to myself, oh, that’s interesting, I wonder how many other days there would have been. So I went to see Mike and I said, Mike, you have a problem. I said, you’ve got a phone call made from Florida and you were charging a per diem. And he said, gee, that was during my holidays. I said, well, how many days were there? And he looked at me and I said, well, you’d better straighten this out and you’d better get yourself organized and he said, well, what should I do? I said, I think you should write a letter to the auditors. He said, well, can I write it to you? And I said, I don’t care who you write it to, but it should go to the auditors. Which is exactly what he did. So I tipped him off about nothing. I actually helped the audit find out that he had, I think, 12 days billed during that time.
Q: So do you think there was anything inappropriate about contacting him at that point?
A: No. This is not a police investigation. This is an audit. I’m the chairman of the audit committee. I want the truth. That’s all I was interested in and it’s my job to seek the truth. I’m also chair of internal economy and when I hear something like this I have to take some action too. I mean, what am I going to do, close my eyes to it?
Q: The question of the agreement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy. There’s some suggestion that that agreement had some bearing on the proceedings of your committee. Did you ever feel any pressure, or was it ever suggested to you, by Nigel Wright, that you should in any way go easy on Senator Duffy or treat him any differently in any way?
A: First of all, I have no idea if there was an agreement between him and Mike Duffy. Only Mike Duffy and Nigel Wright can tell you that. So at the time, I wouldn’t have known anything. Don’t forget, he paid the money back in March. This report wasn’t written until recently and we didn’t receive the audit… the audit continued on after he paid the money back. There was no indication that and no expectation that we would treat him any differently than the way he was treated. The audit was going on, he paid back the money, we said thank you very much, that was it.
Q: Just to be specific, did you ever have any conversation with Nigel Wright where it was suggested to you that…
A: That in return for something I should do something?
Q: … no, more specifically, regardless of whether there was an agreement, was it ever suggested to you that you should treat him differently? Did Nigel ever suggest that you should go easy on Mike Duffy?
A: No. I mean, you’ve got to remember I would have been having a number of discussions with Nigel, I had a few of them. He didn’t tell me to do anything, really. We discussed Mike and the situation that he was in. I mean, the Prime Minister’s Office was very concerned about this. They don’t like this scandal going on. It was hurting us politically. And I didn’t like it going on, but he never said, he never told me to whitewash anything or to let him off the hook or anything like that. I’m responsible for what goes in that report. The internal economy committee is responsible for what goes in that report and the steering committee is responsible for what goes in that report. But I get advice from the media, I get advice from my own leader, I got advice from Senator Cowan. Matter of fact, Senator Cowan wrote me a letter along with Marj LeBreton about what one of the major recommendations should be, which was to collect the money, was to have the money paid back. And we listened to them. That was the major part of the report and the major recommendation. Is that interference? I don’t think so.
Q: But again, just to clarify, was there pressure from anyone within the party or the Prime Minister’s Office or the government to go easy on Senator Duffy?
A: No, I never felt that I should make any excuse for Mike Duffy’s behaviour.
Q: It also seems to be the case that Senator Duffy stopped cooperating with the auditors after he made the payment. Did that bother you then? Does it bother you now?
A: He never cooperated with them before either.
A: He didn’t cooperate with them at all.
Q: Does that bother you?
A: No. It’s his right to do that. He doesn’t have to talk to them. We don’t live in a police state.
Q: Would it bother you if his not cooperating in some way linked to his agreement with Nigel Wright?
A: You know what I think? He paid the money. He said, that’s it. Here’s the money, I don’t owe any money, I’ve paid it back for four years. I don’t know what he was thinking, you’d have to talk to Mike about that. I don’t know what he was thinking, but that didn’t bother me too much at all. I would have liked him to cooperate, but he didn’t. Although when I did ask him to send a letter, he did cooperate. I said he was in trouble.
Q: Does it bother you at all now that the entire investigation of Senator Duffy is now subject to suspicion and allegation? Are you worried about the credibility of the investigation?
A: This has not been a healthy process. Let’s put it this way. I’d hate to have an audit done on me, I’d hate to have an audit done on any senator or any member of Parliament if this is the way politicians are going to treat it. What we did is we had an audit. It was an independent process. And then after the independent process is concerned, we had a report. The report was tabled in the Senate. Everything was done in public. Everything was done with the opposition present. The opposition presented no minority report. The opposition could have complained about it at the beginning. George Furey did not complain about it after the steering committee. They could have made amendments in the internal economy committee, they never made one. Not one. So this process then went into the Senate and somehow the process is wrong? I don’t see how the process is wrong. And you know what? The media has done more to assist it, in kind of a weird way, then anybody because there was that article, somebody did a lot of research … and that’s why the report is returned back because he may have invoiced during the election campaign, when he wasn’t even in Ottawa. Well, that’s not very good. So I’m kind of glad we got that information and now it’s coming back to internal [economy] to be discussed. But the process itself, we’ve got to deal with that and how we’re going to do this in the future because you can’t have kind of a Wild West, hang ‘em high mentality. There has to be due process. People have to be treated fairly. The emails that I get are beyond belief. The hatred that’s shown is beyond belief. And for what? For what purpose? None that I can think of.
Q: Emails from who, do you mean?
A: From ordinary citizens.
Q: Senator Cowan has suggested, or requested I guess, that the internal economy committee proceedings now, in terms of Senator Duffy, be held in public? Do you have any response to that?
A: You know what, Senator Cowan is a publicity-seeking hound. He has six members, he has the deputy chair. They can make that argument in internal economy to have the meeting public. He’s writing this to make himself look like the big guy. And then he’s talking about other people interfering in the process? There’s a guy who’s interfering in the process. If anybody’s done more damage to this process, it’s him.
Q: To come back to the question of Mr. Wright. Do you have any reason to believe that any other Conservative senators on that committee, either the steering committee or the main internal economy committee, were at all influenced by him or pressured by anyone else within the government to go easy on Mike Duffy?
A: I wouldn’t know about anybody else. But no one’s told me otherwise.
This portion of the interview ended there. But, at my request, we spoke again to return to a few points.
Q: Just to go back, we’ve established that the report was written a certain way because he had paid the money back. And I just want to make sure I’m using your words correctly here … You say, “He was given no break whatsoever actually. He suffered the same fate as everybody else. Was it as harshly written as the other two? No. But he had already said he was mistaken and he had paid the money back, so we didn’t think we should harshly write the report as the other two.” So the decision to not write the report as harshly as the other two, was that at all influenced by any discussion with Nigel Wright or anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office or anyone in the government?
A: No, it was influenced by the fact that he paid his money back. That’s the sort of the way Carolyn [Stewart Olsen] and I felt, that there was an opportunity here to send a message. These things sort of … they last a long time, like these reports, they’re not written in five minutes, you know what I mean? There’s so much discussion that takes place about, you know, what we should do and I’m sure that George [Furey] had discussion with his people, you know, and we had discussion with our people and we came to certain decisions and then we tried to put them in the report.
Q: But just to be as categorical as possible, the decision to not write the report as harshly as the others…
A: It didn’t come from someone else giving us an order to do this. Let’s put it that way.
Q: Or any advice to that regard?
A: Well, I got advice from all kinds of people. I’m not going to tell you who they are, but let’s put it this way: I talked to people in the PMO, I talked to media people, I talked to colleagues, I talked to my leadership, I talked to fellow senators. There’s tonnes of people that I would have sought advice [from] as to how we should proceed with this process. This was not a police investigation. There was an audit and there was a report and there were things done that were not correct, that were done wrong. And we felt these people should pay a price. And so we made the decision to have the money returned back for all the time that he had been a senator. You know, I can’t make it any clearer than that. There’s nothing nefarious about it or anything underhanded. Everything was done above board and everything was public. I mean, we didn’t do the report in a dingy room and throw it into the Senate floor, this was done with Liberals present.
Q: But the controversy now is on any suggestion of advice from the Prime Minister’s Office or Nigel Wright.
A: But whether I get advice from them doesn’t really matter, it’s whether I take it that matters. There’s the Prime Minister’s Office, these people are my colleagues and I have discussions with them from time to time. They have never asked me to do anything that I thought was wrong and I certainly did not listen to everything they said. So, you know, there’s nothing here that would be unusual for any report of any kind. It was a simple matter of, you know, we talked to people.
Q: But did Nigel Wright ever suggest to you how the report should be written?
A: Nigel Wright did not.
Q: Did anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office ever suggest to you how the report should be written?
A: Not really.
Q: What does that mean?
A: Because when I ask for advice, people will give advice. I did ask for advice, I’m not denying that. But all I’m saying is, no one gave me any orders, no one came to my room and told me what to do. I did what I thought was right and I asked for advice from as many people as I could and I made up my own mind and I believe Carolyn made up her own mind and I’m sure George made up his own mind too and I’m sure he got advice from all kinds of people. He didn’t make this up on his own either. All I’m saying is that there was no pressure to do anything. That I’m responsible for what’s in that. That’s all I can say.
I attempted at this point to close any possible loopholes, but this next question was not well-worded. At this point, I might’ve been accused of badgering the witness. But, for the record, here is part of what followed.
Q: Can you say though that any of the Prime Minister’s Office’s advice ended up impacting how that report was written?
A: Well, I don’t know, I suppose. It’s hard for me to say. It’s hard for me to say. Only because I asked for advice from many, many people, so it’s all in the report.
Q: And specifically though, the decision to not write the report as harshly, can you say whose advice that was based on?
A: That would have been my advice to myself. That was Carolyn and me deciding that that’s the way we should write the report.