Liberals ask for a public inquiry into the Senate scandal

·Politics Reporter

Do we need a public inquiry into the Senate scandal currently plaguing the Harper government?

We already have federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson investigating whether or not Stephen Harper's former Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright broke any conflict of interest rules when he gifted Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 so that he could pay back his improperly claimed living expenses.

We also have Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard looking into the $90,000 gift and specifically whether Duffy broke Senate conflict rules with regard to gift reporting requirements.

And, according to CBC News, the Tories want the Auditor General to conduct a "comprehensive" audit of Senate expenses. Conservative Senate leader Marjory LeBreton will introduce a motion to that effect, in the red chamber on Tuesday.

"Canadians deserve to know at all times that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and in accordance with the law," LeBreton said.

[ Related: Is Senator Mike Duffy becoming the most hated Canadian politician? ]

Former Liberal leader Bob Rae wants to go further: During Question Period, on Monday, he asked that, instead of the two ethics' office investigations, the government hold a more transparent public inquiry.

"The simple fact remains...that a better way to do this would be to have a public inquiry which would be able to call the prime minister, which would be able to call other members of the prime minister's staff, which would be able to call the relevant senators, which would be able to call Nigel Wright which would have full powers with respect to compliance with the inquiry and which would be held in public. So in the light of day and in the light of sunshine everything would be clear," he said.

"It would be much simpler and much fairer if there was one single inquiry."

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird — who was filling-in for the prime minister — was quick to reject the suggestion and pledged confidence in the current process.

[ Related: Senator Mike Duffy mused about becoming a minister ]

Don't expect the Tories to change their mind.

First of all, such an inquiry could embarrass the government.

Secondly, as Harper said last month during a trip to New York, he's not a big fan of government inquiries.

"Not to say they never work or never produce good recommendations, but my experience has been, they almost always run way over time, way over budget and often, the recommendations prove to be of limited utility," he said.

Here's an overview of the current investigations/reviews:

  • RCMP:

On Monday morning, according to the Globe and Mail, the mounties announced that they have yet to launch a formal investigation into the false expense claims by Senators Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau.

At a news conference on Monday, Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said the police force is still engaged in a document review and meeting potential witnesses.

Asked if a formal investigation has started, he said: “No, we are looking into it.”

“I cannot answer how long it is going to take. It depends where the evidence leads us, the number of witnesses that we will have to meet with. However, that being said, our objective is always the same, to try and establish the facts as much as possible, independent of the time it may take,” Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud said.

  • Senate Ethics Office

Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard is looking into the $90,000 gift from Wright to Duffy and whether Duffy broke conflict rules with regard to gift reporting requirements.

According to the Hill Times, however, Ricard will be halting her investigation, until the RCMP review is over.

  • Federal Ethics Commissioner

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is examining whether Wright violated Parliament's Conflict of Interest Act when he gave Duffy money to repay his housing expenses.

Dawson is somewhat hamstrung, however, in that she's limited to commenting on breaches of law and not whether someone's judgement was questionable.

According to the Huffington Post, Wright has hired another former chief of staff to represent him — lawyer Guy Giorno.

(Photo courtesy of Canadian Press)

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