PM says growing expenses scandal a distraction

Tue May 21, 2013 2:06pm EDT
 
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday dismissed a mushrooming expenses scandal as a distraction, but also said he was "very upset" that members of his Conservative Party had apparently tapped the public purse for personal gain.

Harper, facing the biggest crisis since he won power in early 2006 with promises to clean up government, urged legislators to focus on the economy, which the Conservatives see as their strongest suit.

"We have an active and important agenda on the issues that matter to hard-working Canadian families ... when distractions arise, as they inevitably will, we will deal with them firmly," Harper told his Conservative caucus.

"But we cannot lose sight of our top priority."

In a widening spending scandal that is being investigated by ethics commissioners, three Conservative senators have stepped down to sit as independents after audits indicated they claimed expenses to which they were not entitled.

Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned on Sunday after secretly writing a personal check for C$90,000 ($88,000) to enable one of the three, Senator Mike Duffy, to repay housing allowances that he should not have claimed.

Critics say the large check broke ethics rules that prevent senators from taking gifts. Conservative legislators and their supporters fear that the scandal in the Senate, the upper house of Parliament to which members are appointed by the government, will damage the party's reputation.

The New Democrats, the official opposition, say the Conservatives have violated the trust of voters.   Continued...

 
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffles papers after delivering a speech during a Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie