In his interview with Global, the Prime Minister was asked whether he was aware at the time of a plan to have the Conservative party reimburse Mike Duffy for his questionable expenses. According to the transcript distributed by Global, Mr. Harper’s first word in response was, “no.”
The idea that the Conservative party might assist Mr. Duffy seems to have been revealed in July.
Thomas Mulcair asked about Mr. Harper’s knowledge of that possibility on November 5…
Mr. Mulcair. Was the Prime Minister aware of the initial plan hatched by his chief of staff and his chief fundraiser to reimburse Senator Duffy’s expenses with Conservative Party money? Was he aware of Senator Gerstein’s plan, yes or no?
Mr. Harper. Mr. Speaker, my position has been clear from the beginning. I told Mr. Duffy that I expected him to reimburse his inappropriate expenses. I was told that that was what happened. As it turns out, that is not really what happened. That is why Mr. Wright is no longer on the public payroll. Mr. Duffy should not be either.
Mr. Mulcair. Mr. Speaker, did the Prime Minister know about the plan to use Conservative Party funds to reimburse the illegal expenses of Mike Duffy? No weasel words—yes or no?
Mr. Harper. Mr. Speaker, once again, my clear view on this was that Mr. Duffy’s expenses could not be justified. He had claimed expenses he had not incurred, and I had told him, including telling him directly, that he should repay those funds. I was later told that he had, which, of course, was not true. That is one of the reasons the Senate has acted as it has, and we congratulate it for that action.
Mr. Mulcair. Did the Prime Minister know that the initial plan of his chief of staff, Nigel Wright, was to use Conservative funds to repay Mike Duffy’s illegal expenses? Did he know that? We are not talking about someone else. We are talking about him.
Mr. Harper. Mr. Speaker, I have been clear from the start. I was clear with Mr. Duffy, with Mr. Wright and with the caucus: Mr. Duffy’s expenses were inappropriate and it was his responsibility to reimburse taxpayers. Mr. Duffy did not do that. He did not reimburse, and to my knowledge, he still has not reimbursed, taxpayers for expenses that were inappropriate. On the contrary, he took a cheque from Mr. Wright to pay those expenses and then claimed he had repaid them himself. For that reason, obviously, Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy have faced appropriate sanction.
and November 20….
Mr. Mulcair. Mr. Speaker, was the Prime Minister aware of the original plan to pay back Mike Duffy’s expenses using Conservative Party money or not?
Mr. Harper. Mr. Speaker, from the beginning, my position has been that Mr. Duffy had to pay back his own expenses. When I learned that that was not what he had done, I took the appropriate action.
… without getting anything quite so definitive in response. Even after the Prime Minister’s director of communications had made the rounds and seemed to answer the question definitively, Mr. Harper was still apparently unwilling on November 26 to respond with something as definitive as “no” (though there was a “no” that you might be able to read as being in response to that question even if it came in response to another question). The closest he came to “no” was on December 5, in his final exchange with Mr. Mulcair before the break, when the Prime Minister said that “it was always conveyed to me that Mr. Duffy would repay his own expenses” and that “it was always conveyed to me that it was Mr. Duffy who was going to pay Mr. Duffy’s expenses, not the Conservative Party, not Nigel Wright, not anybody else.”
Over the course of the extended questioning of the Prime Minister, he did show himself willing and able to offer straightforward answers to straightforward questions (on, for example, when he found out about Mr. Wright’s payment to Mr. Duffy, whether he discussed the affair in the Senate with Carolyn Stewart Olsen, what he told Mr. Duffy on February 13, whether Mr. Wright had made similar payments to other senators, that he didn’t threaten Mr. Duffy with expulsion on February 13, that he didn’t say to Mr. Duffy what Mr. Duffy had said he said (on two counts), that, between February and May, Irving Gerstein said nothing to him about the idea of the Conservative party covering Mr. Duffy’s expenses, that he found out on May 15 that the Conservative party had covered Mr. Duffy’s legal expenses and on the circumstances of Benjamin Perrin’s exit from the PMO*).
This one though proved to be a bit of a struggle. Perhaps the charming setting that Global setup for its interview with the Prime Minister proved a more conducive setting.
*Note: This is not intended as a complete list of Mr. Harper’s straightforward answers. It’s mostly drawn from a tally I’d been working on earlier.