OTTAWA – Stephen Harper is trying to quell speculation that he’ll resign before the next election.
In a televised, year-end interview with Quebec’s TVA network, the prime minister says he intends to lead the Conservative party in the scheduled fall 2015 campaign.
And he says he won’t be reflecting on his future in the meantime.
Rather, he says he intends to remain focused on the economic opportunities and challenges facing the country.
Harper’s leadership has been the subject of mounting speculation since the Senate expenses scandal landed squarely on the prime minister’s doorstep last spring.
“It’s interesting that one day, in the newspaper, I read that I want to retire, the next day they say I want to call an election now,” Harper told TVA anchorman Pierre Bruneau.
He noted that under legislation passed by his government, the date for the next election is fixed for October 2015 and said he plans to lead the Conservatives in that campaign.
“I intend to lead my party, which is the only party that has a serious policy on the No. 1 priority of the people and that is the economy.”
The scandal over four senators allegedly making improper expense claims has engulfed Harper’s government for a year now. In particular, Harper’s office has been directly implicated by revelations that his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, personally gave $90,000 to Mike Duffy to enable the senator to repay contested living expense claims.
Harper continues to insist he knew nothing about that transaction.
However, emails and witness statements filed in court by the RCMP suggest more than a dozen top people in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Senate leadership and the Conservative party were involved in hammering out a secret deal with Duffy, which included attempts to interfere with an independent audit and the whitewashing of a Senate report on Duffy’s expenses.
The scandal is unlikely to die down in the new year as the RCMP continues to investigate Wright, Duffy and three other senators. They all potentially face charges of fraud and breach of trust and, in the case of Duffy and Wright, bribery as well.