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Fast 'not happy' with Senate conduct

Abbotsford MP Ed Fast expressed displeasure at the conduct that has sparked the current Senate expense scandal. - file photo
Abbotsford MP Ed Fast expressed displeasure at the conduct that has sparked the current Senate expense scandal.
— image credit: file photo

Abbotsford Conservative MP Ed Fast issued a statement on Thursday that he is "not happy" with the conduct that has sparked the current Senate expense scandal.

"It does not reflect the broader caucus or government," Fast stated.

"We have worked hard as a party as a caucus and as a government to dramatically strengthen accountability rules in Ottawa, including the Federal Accountability Act.

"We will continue to toughen up the rules and uphold a culture of accountability in Ottawa."

Fast, the international trade minister, was unavailable for direct interview because he's in Colombia with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to observe Latin American economic integration talks.

Controversy has enveloped the Senate over the past week, with the focus on Conservative-appointed senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

Nigel Wright, chief of staff for Prime Minster Stephen Harper, resigned last Sunday after writing a personal cheque for $90,000 to repay Duffy's improperly claimed housing allowance.

Wallin's travel expenses for 2012, in the $300,000 range, are the subject of an audit.

Both Duffy and Wallin are now sitting as independents in the Senate, as are former Conservative Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb, who are also under scrutiny over spending.

Heritage Minister James Moore, the MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, told CTV Tuesday Duffy should resign altogether.

Under pressure to provide a public explanation of what happened, Harper spoke to his caucus Tuesday morning in front of the media, who weren't permitted to ask questions.

Harper said he was "not happy" and "very upset" about the conduct of some parliamentarians and of his own office, before leaving with Fast on the trade mission.

"Anyone who wants to use public office for their own benefit should make other plans or better yet leave this room," Harper said.

He said he didn't get into politics to defend the Senate, a reference to his long-standing position it should be reformed as an elected body.

The NDP Opposition have called for an RCMP investigation and the federal ethics commissioner is investigating.

The Senate's conflict of interest code forbids senators from accepting any gift or benefit "that could reasonably be considered to relate to the senator's position."

The Parliament of Canada Act specifies that senators may not receive compensation "for services rendered ... in relation to any bill, proceeding, contract, claim, controversy, charge, accusation, arrest or other matter before the Senate or the House of Commons." Those who offer such compensation may be liable to imprisonment for up to a year.

Two other senators have also quit the Conservative caucus amid ongoing expense audits.

Criticism of the ethical failures of Duffy and Wright have ruffled Conservative ranks across Canada, including in B.C., where the party holds 21 seats.

Conservative Sen. Nancy Greene Raine, from Kamloops, was also strongly critical of Duffy.

"Personally, if it was me, I would resign," Raine told Kamloops This Week on Tuesday.

"He's made some huge mistakes and using public funds during election campaigns and having his expenses, double-dipping as they say, that is just not acceptable. You can't blame that on your staff," Raine said.

"We were told very, very clearly that Senate resources were not to be used during the writ period when you are our campaigning."

Raine said it's normal for senators to campaign for their colleagues in the House of Commons, "but, personally, there is no way I would ever submit any expenses to the Senate" for such work.

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Cathy McLeod was more cautious, saying it's more appropriate to wait for the report of the ethics commissioner.

Maple Ridge Conservative MP Randy Kamp said the controversy has hurt morale within the party, but said a decision to resign is up to Duffy.

Kamp said he's hopeful the Supreme Court of Canada will give the green light to reform legislation introduced in 2011 that would limit senators' terms to nine years and allow for appointment of senators elected in their own provinces.

The bill reached second reading before being referred to the courts.

"We think that's constitutional but the Supreme Court is going to rule on that," Kamp said Tuesday.

While he stopped short of joining Moore's call for Duffy's resignation, Russ Hiebert, Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, also expressed dismay.

"Anybody who is not here to serve Canadians should find another occupation," he said, responding to Peace Arch News questions by email on Tuesday.

"Frankly, our Conservative Government was first elected on a promise to bring greater accountability to Ottawa. I believe this issue is very important to Canadians and to my fellow Conservative MPs."

Duffy was appointed senator representing Prince Edward Island, on the advice of Harper, in December 2008.

– with files from Dan Kinvig, CTV, Tom Fletcher, Andrea Klassen, Phil Melnychuk, Peace Arch News

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