OTTAWA — The Mike Duffy trial continues to hang over the federal election campaign trail, sparking new anger and vitriol from Conservative supporters and fuelling continued NDP and Liberal attacks on Stephen Harper’s credibility.
Tensions bubbled over at a campaign event in Toronto on Tuesday when Conservative supporters interrupted reporters during the prime minister’s press conference and hurled expletives at them as they were leaving the site.
Harper stuck to his main line, that Duffy and his former chief of staff Nigel Wright are to blame for the whole expenses affair — despite emails at the trial indicating others in Prime Minister’s Office discussed the matter.
In one of three questions, Harper was asked why he continued to tell the House of Commons that Wright was the only staffer in his office to know about the $90,000 payment that Wright gave Duffy to cover his expenses.
“I’ve answered according to the information I had,” Harper replied.
“As you know, Mr. Wright made some subsequent statements and so I’ve course corrected the record. And that was over two years ago.”
Earlier, Harper had to intervene to allow another reporter to ask a question about the Duffy affair after one heckler yelled: “Ask questions on the topic at hand.”
Here’s a full transcript of Harper’s response to media questions on Mike Duffy affair:
Reporter: “Mr. Harper, I’d like to talk to you about the Duffy trial, and over the last number of days, the answer that you’ve given us, I understand, you believe that Duffy should have repaid his expenses, he didn’t, Nigel Wright did, and that you believe the two people responsible are being held accountable. But according to government documents, emails from within your office that are not being challenged before the court, show that 12 people, not two, exchanged almost 500 emails over three months to craft a strategy for Mr. Duffy and were poised to deceive the Canadian people on his repayment scheme. Twelve people, not two. Why are you protecting them?”
Harper: “You know my view on this. I’m not — I’m certainly not going to comment on an ongoing matter before the court that are being disputed. But the fact of the matter is this: it was Mr. Duffy’s, it was Mr. Duffy’s responsibility to repay his, to repay his expenses. Mr. Duffy did not do so. Mr. Wright permitted him not to do so. These are the individuals I consider responsible. And they are being held fully accountable for their actions.”
A series of hecklers interrupted a second questioner, but it was asked, with Harper’s assistance.
Reporter: “I’m going to start again. Nigel Wright and others concocted a deliberately deceptive story about Mike Duffy’s repayment, the $90,000, and Canadians believed that he repaid that. As you just mentioned, you don’t want to comment on the ongoing court matter, and the specifics of the court case. I understand that. So let’s talk about your personal feelings about this. Are you embarrassed by the way the Duffy issue was handled by the top people in your office, in the Prime Minister’s Office of Canada?”
Harper: “Well look, somebody said years ago, the role of a leader is not to go around expressing his feelings. The role of the leader is to deal with situations, and take action. Mr. Duffy, as you know, and my view is very clear on this, when I heard he had made the expense claims he had made, claiming travel expenses when he clearly was not travelling, I thought that was completely inappropriate and told him he should repay those expenses. Because of the actions of Mr. Wright, he did not repay those expenses. That’s why these two individuals have been held accountable by me, and are being held accountable by the system.”
Reporter: “Thank you again for taking our questions again today Mr. Harper. Just trying to understand, how is it possible that two weeks after the Wright-Duffy cheque became, the Wright-Duffy deal became public that you were still getting up in the House of Commons and saying that Mr. Wright was the only person that knew. How is that possible?”
Harper: “Well, as I have said before, I’ve answered according to the information I had. As you know, Mr. Wright made some subsequent statements, and so I of course corrected the record. And that was over two years ago. Once again, Mr. Duffy was one who took money in my judgment he should not have taken. And Mr. Wright is responsible for the fact that he did not pay that back, as he was supposed to.”