First, the play by play:
Here’s a report on the speech from the Canadian Press:
OTTAWA – A “very upset” Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants any federal Conservative who is in politics to seek personal gain from public office to get out of his caucus.
Speaking to his MPs and senators in the midst of a scandal that took down his own chief of staff, Nigel Wright, over the weekend, Harper also promised to tighten Senate expense rules.
“I don’t think any of you are going to be very surprised to hear that I am not happy,” Harper said in his first public comments since revelations last week that Wright wrote a personal cheque worth $90,000 to embattled Sen. Mike Duffy.
“I’m very upset about the conduct we have witnessed, the conduct of some parliamentarians and the conduct of my own office.”
Harper reminded his caucus about a pointed warning he first issued in 2005: no one seeking elected office to line their own pockets would be welcome.
“Anyone who wants to use public office for their own benefit should make other plans, or better yet, leave this room,” Harper said, jabbing his finger for effect.
Many in the caucus looked sombre as they awaited Harper’s arrival, but they greeted his speech with an ovation.
Before the meeting began, Heritage Minister James Moore was asked expressly whether he believes Duffy should resign his Senate seat.
“I think Canadians expect members of Parliament and senators to respect taxpayers’ dollars,” Moore said. “Anybody who is not here respecting that commitment to Canadians, they should get out, they should leave.”
Duffy and Sen. Pamela Wallin have already left the caucus amid lingering questions about their expense claims. In Duffy’s case, an independent audit has already red-flagged more than $90,000 in housing expenses and per diems.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed last week that Wright, one of Harper’s most trusted confidantes, wrote Duffy a personal cheque to cover paying back the expenses. Wright stepped down on Sunday.
Harper said he has discussed the situation with Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate.
“She has my full support to accelerate changes to the Senate’s rules on expenses and close any loopholes in those existing rules,” he said. “And I expect Conservative senators, regardless of what opposition you may face, to get that done.”
Harper said the Conservatives came to office pledged to clean up Ottawa politics and they have to follow through.
Quebec Sen. Jacques Demers said anyone who takes money they are not entitled to should pay a price.
“If these people have done what has been speculated that they have done, they should be fired, they should not just be going to independent,” he said.
The former Montreal Canadiens hockey coach stressed that he supports the prime minister, but is pondering his own future. Demers said he may have to leave if the scandal isn’t cleared up to his satisfaction.
“I really, really trust Mr. Harper,” he said. “I’m in reflection period. It means I’m going to see what’s going to happen. I want to see if I’m going to stay in the Senate.”
For the record, here’s a transcript of the PM’s remarks:
Good morning, everyone.
Colleagues, obviously the reason I’m speaking to you this morning is I want to talk about some events that have transpired recently. And I don’t think any of you are going to be very surprised to hear that I’m not happy, I’m very upset about some conduct we have witnessed — the conduct of some parliamentarians and the conduct of my own office.
We’ve worked hard collectively as a party, as a caucus and as a government to dramatically strengthen accountability rules in Ottawa and to apply those standards to ourselves. I need not remind you that in 2006 this government was first elected to clean up the Liberal sponsorship scandal, to ensure the rules are followed and to ensure there are consequences when they are not. Since that time, we have taken unprecedented measures to achieve that end.
Our Federal Accountability Act, the toughest accountability legislation in the history of this country, forever changed the way business is done in Ottawa. We have strengthened the powers of the Auditor General, toughened the office of the Ethics Commissioner, reformed political party financing, dramatically tightened lobbying rules and beefed up auditing and accountability within government departments.
Canada now has one of the most accountable and transparent systems of governance in the entire world and this is something Canadians are rightly proud of.
It is also something, colleagues, that we can never take for granted because, as I said, in fact as I said in the room across the Hall in the fall of 2005 when we first pledged to bring in the Federal Accountability Act, I said this: “No government will be perfect because none of us are perfect. We cannot dream a system so perfect that no one will have to be good.”
Therefore, just as we continue to toughen rules, we must also uphold a culture of accountability. And I know that the people in this room have. We have reduced our budgets and travel as a government. We are the caucus that finally bit the bullet and reformed the MP pension plan so that we will pay our fair share.
And I know that, like me and my family, you are scrupulous about paying expenses of a personal nature yourselves.
But, that said, let me repeat something else I said in that same speech in 2005 — and let me be very blunt about it.
Anyone – anyone who wants to use public office for their own benefit should make other plans or, better yet, leave this room.
Now, colleagues, let me also address the issue of the Senate. As Canadians know, I did not get into politics to defend the Senate. And it was this party that put Senate reform on the national agenda.
It was this government which has placed before Parliament a bill, opposed by both the Liberals and the NDP, to allow for Senate elections and to put term limits on senators. And in this room our colleagues from the Senate who’ve agreed to sit in the other place in order to support our efforts to achieve fundamental, irreversible reform.
Colleagues, we have heard from Canadians loud and clear. They want us to continue our efforts. They are asking us to accelerate those efforts.
The Senate status quo is not acceptable. Canadians want the Senate to change.
Now, as you know, our Senate reforms have been tied up in Parliament for years. Earlier this year, we asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on whether the reforms we have proposed can be accomplished by Parliament acting alone. We’ve also asked the court to rule on options for abolishing the Senate completely.
And, as we prepare to receive and act on the judgment of the Supreme Court, we will also take further steps in the area of Senate expenditure and accountability. Senator LeBreton and I have discussed this and she has my full support to accelerate changes to the Senate’s rules on expenses and close any loopholes in those existing rules and I expect Conservative senators, regardless of what opposition you may face, to get that done in the Senate.
Colleagues, we have an active and important agenda on the issues that matter to hardworking Canadian families and there is much work to be done. When distractions arise, as they inevitably will, we will deal with them firmly.
But we cannot lose sight of our top priority. The world we are in remains a deeply uncertain place.
Canadians are looking to us to protect them — their jobs, their families, their communities. That is what we must be focused on and what we will continue to do: continue to implement our Economic Action Plan, continue to work on expanding trade, continue our focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and continue to ensure that through all the ups and downs of the world economy there remains no better place to be than this country, Canada. So let’s get back to work.