‘Canadians deserve answers’: Trudeau grills Harper about Duffy expense scandal in open letter

MONTREAL — Liberal Leader helped keep the issue of how the Prime Minister’s Office handled Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses scandal in the public eye on Sunday, announcing he was sending an open letter to asking him for more answers.

Harper has refused to provide straight answers about the repayment of Duffy’s expenses and who in the PMO knew that former chief of staff Nigel Wright made a $90,000 payment on Duffy’s behalf, Trudeau told reporters in Montreal, where he was taking part in the city’s Pride parade.

“There are questions about the inconsistencies in his own stories, his own contradictory statements, there are inconsistencies in what ministers of the Crown have been told to say to Parliament,” Trudeau said.

In the letter, Trudeau asked Harper who exactly knew about the payment and whether he had spoken to Wright since he left the Prime Minister’s Office in 2013.

He also repeated a call he first made on Saturday for Harper to fire some of his closest advisers who knew about the $90,000 repayment scheme before it become public.

Initially Harper said Wright acted alone, but Duffy’s fraud trial heard evidence last week that half a dozen PMO staff and Conservative party brass were in the know about Wright’s plan — including Ray Novak, Harper’s current chief of staff.

Harper changed his tune Friday, saying the “vast majority” of his staff didn’t know about Wright’s actions.

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Wright will continue to be cross-examined on Monday at Duffy’s trial, where the senator has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges including fraud and breach of trust.

“Canadians deserve answers to these questions — answers you have refused to provide,” Trudeau’s letter concluded.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair was also on the attack against Harper over Duffy. The prime minister stuck to his guns when asked about the Duffy affair, saying he did not know about Wright’s repayment plan before it became public.

Trudeau also used a media event on Sunday to take aim at his rivals’ economic records, declaring Harper’s plan “a failure” and accusing Mulcair of taking Quebecers for granted.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham HughesTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham HughesLiberal Leader Justin Trueau speaks to the media during a federal election campaign stop at the annual gay pride parade in Montreal, Sunday, August 16, 2015.

“He’s offering a minimum wage that most people won’t touch, he’s offering daycares that are less good than what Quebec already has, and he’s offering a mega round of constitutional debates,” Trudeau said of NDP leader Tom Mulcair, before reiterating his promises to create jobs, increase family allowances, and cut taxes for the middle class.

Like the other leaders, Mulcair, Gilles Duceppe and Elizabeth May, Trudeau pointed out the conspicuous absence of Stephen Harper, the only national party leader not present at the Montreal Pride event.

“The fact that Mr Harper continues to choose not to attend Pride events — not just here in Montreal but across the country — once again shows that he is not choosing to be the Prime Minister for all Canadians,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau marched briefly in the parade, chatting with Duceppe and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, and stopping to shake hands with a few bystanders.

When asked how he felt about trailing the NDP and the Conservative Party in some recent polls, Trudeau said he remained “very confident” of his party’s election chances.

“It’s a long campaign, we have work to do across the country — all the parties — to attract people’s confidence and their votes,” he said.

“I am very, very happy with what we’re doing,” he said.

Read the full letter:

Prime Minister,

Evidence presented at the Mike Duffy trial demonstrates there was an attempt by members of your staff to cover-up Mr. Duffy’s expenses and then provide a false version of events to Parliament and to Canadians.

Your staff tried to end an independent audit by Deloitte, they manipulated a Senate report, and they crafted talking points about these events that were simply not true – including the details of Nigel Wright’s $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy. The e-mails demonstrate that senior members of your current campaign team, including Marjory LeBreton, Irving Gerstein, and Ray Novak, were a part of these activities.

This evidence is raising extremely serious questions about your judgement and your public statements to this point.

1. You stated during the first leaders’ debate of this election campaign: “When bad actions arise, the role of the leader is to take responsibility and hold people accountable.” If you stand by that statement, and if you have any respect left for the office that you are privileged to currently hold – why have you not already fired the members of your team who were involved in these activities?

2. You stood in the House of Commons and said Nigel Wright’s decision to write a $90,000 cheque was “not communicated to me or to members of my office.” Yet evidence at court shows that Nigel Wright e-mailed the PMO’s lawyer, Benjamin Perrin, and your current Chief of Staff, Ray Novak, indicating he was sending a personal cheque. As this evidence was made public in recent days, you now say that the “vast majority” of your staff was unaware of Nigel Wright’s cheque. Who specifically was aware? Were you aware that your first statement was false when you made it?

3. With respect to the $90,000 cheque, in 2013, you said: “On Wednesday, May 15, I was told about it.” The next day your office released a statement saying Nigel Wright “has the confidence of the Prime Minister” and “he will not resign.” Months later you then said “he was dismissed.” If you dismissed Nigel Wright, why did your office release a statement saying that he had your confidence?

4. Have you, or any members of your staff, had any contact with Nigel Wright on any government business since he left your office on May 19, 2013?

Canadians deserve answers to these questions – answers that you have refused to provide.

Sincerely,

Justin Trudeau
Leader of the Liberal Party of

About Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press