Harper defends Conservative party paying Mike Duffy's legal expenses

OTTAWA – There’s nothing unusual about the Conservative party using taxpayer-subsidized funds to pay Mike Duffy’s legal expenses, Stephen Harper said Tuesday as he parried a fresh barrage of opposition questions about the Senate expense scandal.

“The party regularly reimburses members of its caucus for valid legal expenses, as do other parties,” the prime minister told the House of Commons under more withering criticism from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

Donations to political parties are underwritten by the public purse through generous tax credits. However, the Conservative party’s largesse didn’t extend to all the senators under fire for improper travel or housing allowance claims.

Sen. Patrick Brazeau’s office said no offer was made to pay his legal expenses. Terrence O’Sullivan, Sen. Pamela Wallin’s lawyer, said the same.

“Sen. Wallin has received no assistance with her legal fees — whether before or after she recused herself from the caucus — from the Conservative party or anyone associated with the Conservative party,” O’Sullivan said in an email.

All three senators are under investigation by the RCMP and are facing a government bid to to suspend them, without pay or privileges, from the Senate.

The suspension motions were tied in procedural knots Tuesday, making it unlikely they will be voted on before the Conservatives gather Thursday evening for a two-day national convention in Calgary.

Duffy disclosed Monday there were two cheques regarding his allegedly improper expenses: one for $13,560 from Conservative party lawyer Arthur Hamilton to cover his legal expenses, plus the well-known $90,000 from Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, to enable him to reimburse the Senate.

Harper was grilled repeatedly Tuesday about Duffy’s latest bombshell. But while he condemned the conduct of Wright and Duffy, he shrugged off suggestions that Hamilton did anything wrong.

“This individual is not accused of anything,” he said, in response to a question from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair who asked whether the prime minister intends to fire Hamilton.

“New Democrats tell us that we should fire or expel people on the flimsiest of allegations without, in some cases, any proof of anything against anybody,” Harper said.

“Then when we determine that actions should be taken (against the three senators), the leader of the Opposition stands up and pretends these people are somehow victims of arbitrary actions.”

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