Canada ethics boss reviewing C$90,000 check to senator

Wed May 15, 2013 5:11pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is reviewing a move by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff to write a personal check for C$90,000 ($88,000) to a Conservative senator so he could repay housing allowances he should not have received.

News of the gift by Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, a wealthy former businessman, to Senator Mike Duffy is the latest embarrassment for Harper, whose Conservative government was elected on a promise of accountability.

Opposition politicians demanded on Wednesday an independent inquiry into expense claims made by members of the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, and said a "dark cloud of ethical failures" stretched to senior levels of government.

Dawson's spokeswoman, Jocelyne Brisebois, said the ethics commissioner is reviewing Wright's involvement in the repayment "of a senator's expenses" and is following up with Wright on his obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act.

A Senate investigation found last week that Duffy and two other senators were not entitled to housing allowances they had claimed.

Duffy agreed to pay his allowances back to the government, but because he did not have the money available, Wright cut him a check from his own account, Harper's chief spokesman Andrew MacDougall said.

Repaying the money was the right thing to do, and taxpayers were not on the hook, MacDougall said, adding that Harper had not been aware that Wright had covered Duffy's expenses.

However, in addition to federal conflict-of-interest law governing public office holders such as Wright, it appeared that Duffy might have broken Senate rules that say members cannot take gifts "that could reasonably be considered to relate to the senator's position".   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie