OTTAWA – Conservative Sen. Mike Duffy submitted expense claims while Parliament was dissolved during the last federal election, reporting he was on Senate business on days he appeared to be campaigning for the party.
The full extent of Duffy’s Senate expenses during the writ period remains a mystery — the Conservative government is refusing to reveal the full breakdown of the senator’s claims and his repayment of $90,172.24.
The backstory to the controversial personal payment made to Duffy by Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, is unclear. Spokesman Andrew MacDougall said Thursday that Wright has the prime minister’s full confidence.
In April 2011, a month completely dominated by the last general election, independent auditors at the firm Deloitte listed Duffy as being in Ottawa on Senate business and claiming a daily expense for seven days.
He was also listed as being on Senate business at an “other location” on another six days. Using cellphone records, Deloitte managed to catch one inappropriate “other location” claim from 2012 while Duffy was in Florida.
But the auditors said they remained in the dark about whether taxpayers paid his expenses on many other days, since Duffy failed to fully disclose his activities and records.
Social media and newspaper reports offer a glimpse of how Duffy’s busy campaign schedule overlapped with the Senate business he reported to auditors:
— On April 5, Duffy spoke to the Kootenay-Columbia Conservative association in British Columbia. His travel claims indicated he was on Senate business.
— On April 8, candidate Sandy Lee tweeted that she was meeting Duffy in Norman Wells, N.W.T. Lee’s campaign paid Duffy $209.01 in expenses. His travel claims indicated he was on Senate business.
— On April 21, Duffy was reportedly campaigning with candidate Scott Armstrong in Nova Scotia. Armstrong’s campaign paid Duffy $409.91 in expenses.
— On April 27 and 28, Duffy appeared to have busy days in the Toronto area. CBC News reported Thursday that eight candidates split a bill of $1355 in expenses for Duffy, including current Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. His travel claims indicated he was on Senate business.
— On April 29, former cabinet minister Lawrence Cannon tweeted a picture of Duffy at an event outside of Ottawa that same day. The Deloitte audit listed Duffy as being in Ottawa on Senate business and claiming a per diem.
If Duffy collected daily Senate expenses while on the Conservative campaign trail, taxpayers may have paid twice: Conservative candidates who paid for Duffy’s hotel stays would have received federal rebate money for those expenses.
Duffy’s campaign events did not end there. On at least five other occasions documented in media reports, Duffy campaigned with Conservative candidates. He did not tell Deloitte about his campaign calendar, forcing Deloitte to list his activities as “undocumented.”
Meanwhile, the public Senate attendance register does not cover April or May 2011, the period that Parliament was dissolved.
“We are not on a leave of absence — Parliament was dissolved — we are still senators. However, all party work we are doing is paid for by the party,” Duffy told Postmedia News during the campaign.
“MPs continue to be paid. So do we.”
Duffy did not respond to a phone call or an email message requesting comment. The Conservative Party of Canada also did not respond to a question about Duffy’s Senate expense claims during the campaign.
Liberal Sen. David Smith, who has acted as the party’s campaign chairman several times, said he’s never heard of a senator claiming a per diem during a writ period.
“During campaigns, you’d never put in per diems because Parliament wouldn’t be sitting,” Smith said.
“I can’t say no one ever did that, but I certainly never did.”
Questions are still swirling about the circumstances surround Wright’s gift to Duffy of $90,000 to help him repay the housing expenses.
CTV News reported it had received an email from Duffy in which the senator contradicted the PMO, claiming he took out a loan from the Royal Bank and that “Nigel played no role.”
But MacDougall reiterated that the money was a gift, and that the only stipulation surrounding it was that an equivalent amount be paid to the Receiver General of Canada on the same day.
The NDP said Thursday it has asked the Senate ethics officer to investigate Wright’s gift. Under the Senate ethics code, senators are prohibited from receiving gifts. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has said she is reviewing the matter.
Once Duffy repaid the expenses, Deloitte said, Duffy ended his participation in the audit, stopping short of providing financial records, credit card statements and information about his calendar. He also did not meet with the auditors.
“Based on the information provided in the travel claims, it is not clear from the claims where Sen. Duffy was located on days he claimed per diem amounts,” Deloitte wrote.
Sen. Mac Harb — formerly a Liberal who is now independent and contesting a Senate demand he repay $51,482 in housing-related expenses — is also listed as having been in Ottawa on Senate business on four days during the federal election period, but reported no Senate business outside of Ottawa.
Sen. Patrick Brazeau, also now independent after having been kicked out of the Conservative caucus in February, only listed one day of Senate business in Ottawa during the writ period.
He is also fighting the Senate’s demand that he repay $48,744 in housing expenses, and is asking for a public meeting with the secretive committee that’s making the demand.
The Deloitte auditors have said the rules around housing expenses are not clear, and that Brazeau met four criteria for declaring his home in Maniwaki, Que. his primary residence. But the audit also said Brazeau’s activities while in Ottawa were undocumented, despite the senator’s claims he was on Senate business.
“I think that I’ve always said that Senate internal economy is one of the most powerful committees in Parliament because they conduct their committees behind closed doors, and it’s time that they are open,” Brazeau told reporters Thursday.
“They can’t just pick and choose who owes money and who does not, and in my case, the fact that I did meet the four criteria, the fact that I did not break any rules, well I’m going to stand up for myself and I’m going to demand answers.”
Deloitte also highlighted six expense claims when Harb said he was in Ottawa on “Senate business” without being able to prove what he was doing, and two for Brazeau. In both cases, Harb and Brazeau provided Deloitte with more documents than Duffy, and met with the auditors in person.