Canadian senators face suspension over improper expense claims

Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton walked out of the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 24 October 2013 Conservative Senator LeBreton has defended PM Harper against allegations he was enmeshed in an ongoing Senate expense claim row

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A Canadian Conservative Party senator has accused another senator embroiled in an expenses row of lying in order to avoid political repercussions.

Senator Marjory LeBreton says Mike Duffy spoke a "blatant falsehood".

Mr Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau face suspension from the Senate without pay over accusations they claimed improper expenses.

Mr Duffy has accused Conservative PM Stephen Harper's office of attempting to cover up the matter.

On Thursday, Ms LeBreton spoke as the Senate debated motions to suspend Conservatives Mr Duffy, Ms Wallin and Mr Brazeau.

"There is no joy in having this whole situation before us," she said, speaking in favour of the suspensions.

Days earlier, Mr Duffy accused Mr Harper's office of wielding "bribery, threats and extortion" in an effort to cover up a growing expenses row.

Mr Duffy said Mr Harper's office sought to force him to repay taxpayer-reimbursed expenses that Mr Duffy believed were properly claimed.

Ms LeBreton challenged the allegation: "The story that Senator Duffy spun in this place is not based in facts and it certainly leaves open to question what he was talking about and what he was thinking."

She said Mr Duffy spoke a "blatant falsehood" in order to avoid being expelled from the Senate over the expenses matter.

On Wednesday, Mr Harper denied involvement in the affair, telling the House of Commons he had been unaware of Mr Duffy's activities.

'Destroy my reputation'
Senator Mike Duffy arrived at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on 22 October 2013  Senator Mike Duffy says the expenses were proper

Canadian senators are appointed by the governor general of Canada - the Queen's representative - on the advice of the prime minister. They typically join either the government caucus or the opposition caucus, or sit as independents.

Mr Duffy has been accused of seeking reimbursement for living expenses associated with a home in Ottawa, thought that, rather than a cottage in his home province of Prince Edward Island, was his primary residence.

He has argued the expense claims were within government guidelines for the reimbursement of senators who live outside Ottawa but must maintain a second home there.

Mr Duffy has said Mr Harper ordered him to repay the government after months of negative publicity. But he declined, arguing that to pay back money to which he was entitled would damage his reputation.

He then accused Mr Harper's office of "bribery, threats and extortion", and said Mr Harper threatened to force him from his Senate seat in order to cover up the row.

Mr Duffy's lawyer says the prime minister's office sought a way to repay the 90,000 Canadian dollars ($86,336; £53,292) it said Mr Duffy owed the taxpayers in order to put an end to the potentially damaging row. Mr Duffy reportedly agreed in order to avoid an audit.

Mr Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright said in May that he provided the money to Mr Duffy, prompting an investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Mr Wright later resigned his post.

"Any assertion that I was in any way consulted or had any knowledge of Mr Wright's payment to Mr Duffy is categorically false," Mr Harper later told the media.

"Had I known about it, I would not have permitted it."

'Sordid mess'

Mr Duffy, Ms Wallin and Mr Brazeau have left the Conservative Senate caucus after audits uncovered what officials labelled "troubling" expenses claims.

The government leader in the Senate Claude Carignan later recommended that the three be suspended, saying the move was needed "to protect the dignity and reputation of the Senate".

On Friday, senate Conservatives gave notice of their intent to bring the matter to a vote by as early as mid-next week, according to media reports.

Conservative Senator Donald Plett defended his three colleagues, arguing the suspension would set a precedent enabling the Senate to punish merely unpopular members.

Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, has sought to pin the row on Mr Harper.

"A leader takes responsibility when things go wrong and this prime minister has consistently avoided taking any responsibility for this sordid mess," Mr Trudeau said.

But the Liberal Party has also been touched by the expenses row.

Ex-Liberal Senator Mac Harb left the chamber in August, dropping a dispute of an order that he repay 231,000 Canadian dollars ($220,000; £141,000) in expense reimbursements deemed improper.

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