CHARLOTTETOWN - Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech Tuesday on the Senate expense scandal did nothing to satisfy the many unanswered questions swirling around P.E.I. Senator Mike Duffy, according to Prince Edward Island MPs.
© The Guardian file photo
Senator Mike Duffy speaks with reporters in Charlottetown.
Harper’s address to his Conservative caucus Tuesday only generally alluded to the spending scandal that has been focus of intense media scrutiny and which cost Harper’s former top advisor, Nigel Wright, his job.
Harper said he is ‘very upset’ over the whole affair, but did not specifically address Duffy, Wright or any of the details surrounding the controversy.
After his speech he sat down and remained firmly silent as reporters shouted questions from the back of the chamber before being shuffled out by government staffers.
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter said the prime minister’s speech left more questions than answers.
“We don’t have any answers from the prime minister on what he knew and when. Was the prime minister aware of a deal? Was the prime minister aware that somebody was requesting the senate committee investigating this matter to go soft on Mike Duffy?” Easter queried.
“He didn’t give us any answers and now he’s left town.”
Harper boarded a plane for South America Tuesday afternoon leaving questions about the controversy to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird during question period.
Baird said Harper knew nothing of the deal between Wright and Duffy until it surfaced in the media last week.
The issue revolves around$90,000 in housing allowance improperly claimed by Duffy for his living expenses in Ottawa.
Over the weekend, Wright resigned as Harper’s chief of staff after it was revealed Duffy paid the housing expenses back with funds he received from Wright.
Canada’s ethics watchdog is now looking into the matter and the RCMP are reviewing Duffy’s expenses as well as those of at least two other senators.
Last week more questions were raised when it came to light Duffy also submitted expense claims during the last federal election on days he was being paid to campaign for the Conservative party.
Duffy resigned from the Conservative caucus late last week, but has been steering clear of the media who were knocking on the door of his Cavendish cottage during his brief stay on the Island for the long weekend.
He even called the police on a CTV news crew trying to garner an interview.
Charlottetown MP Sean Casey said the lack of answers from both Duffy and Harper is fanning the flames of this scandal.
“It’s bad enough that we have a senator that’s flouted the expense rules and then refused to cooperate with an independent audit, but what makes this more troubling is the involvement of the prime minister’s office and the unanswered questions around that,” Casey said.
“I think what needs to happen is a transparent accounting of what’s taken place. What I would like to see is an independent investigation.”
National Revenue Minister and Egmont MP Gail Shea was not made available for an interview Tuesday, but did say in a statement emailed to The Guardian she believes action must be taken to strengthen the rules for Senate spending.
She also appeared to have some strong words for Duffy and the other senators embroiled in the spending controversy.
“Like all Islanders, I am deeply disappointed with the conduct of some parliamentarians,” Shea wrote in an email to The Guardian.
“Accountability and ethics are at the core of our party's values and our government's actions… As we continue to strengthen the rules, we must also uphold a culture of accountability. Canadians understand that our Senate, as it stands today, must change. In the meantime, we will fix the Senate’s rules governing travel and expenses.”
But Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay said he believes Harper and Duffy should be doing more to answer the questions of Islanders, many of whom have expressed dismay and embarrassment over their senator’s actions.
“People are desperately annoyed,” MacAulay said.
“(Islanders) want to know what happened, what went on and in Mike (Duffy)’s case, was it appropriate, was it not? The fact of the matter is, it’s the public purse and they deserve to know.”