OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper is backing up former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s testimony at the criminal trial of embattled senator Mike Duffy.
Speaking at a campaign event in Vancouver, Harper is echoing Wright’s version of their famous encounter with Duffy at a Conservative caucus meeting in February 2013.
He says he told the senator that his disallowed expenses “could not be justified,” since Duffy hadn’t actually incurred the expenses – “regardless of what the rules are.”
Harper says he told Duffy that he should repay the expenses.
Once the expenses were repaid, Harper says it was his belief that Duffy had paid them back himself.
When he learned that in fact Wright had made the $90,000 payment on Duffy’s behalf, Harper says he made the information public and “took the appropriate action.”
That is presumably a reference to the fact that Wright left the Prime Minister’s Office soon after, although it’s never been clear whether he resigned or was “dismissed,” as Harper has said publicly.
“Mr. Duffy came to me, and I said to him that his expenses, in my judgment, could not be justified,” Harper told a news conference in Vancouver.
“You cannot justify claiming expenses you did not actually incur, regardless of what the rules were. That just can’t be justified. I felt he should pay them back.”
Harper said it was always his understanding that Duffy would repay the expenses himself.
“That’s what we were told was going to happen,” he said. When I found out that is not what happened, that in fact they’d been repaid by somebody else, we made that information public and I took the appropriate action.”