With Conservatives now distancing themselves from embattled Senator Pamela Wallin, it may be difficult for some to remember a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was eager to defend the former Tory's controversial travel claims.
Even if that time was, you know, February.
On Monday, Conservative Sen. Majority LeBreton, the retiring leader of the government in the Senate, publicly called on Wallin to repay any expenses that didn’t pass muster.
"Our government will not tolerate the waste or abuse of the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians. We expect that any inappropriate expenses will be repaid," LeBreton said in a statement. "Sen. Wallin is no longer a member of the caucus and must be held accountable for her actions."
But it wasn't so long ago that Harper said he looked at Wallin's travel numbers and found things to be in line.
On February 13, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair kicked off question period by saying the "more things change, the more they stay the same" in the Senate expense scandal.
"Senator Pamela Wallin claimed more than $300,000 in travel expenses in the past three years alone," Mulcair said. "Less than 10 per cent of these expenses were for travel in Saskatchewan, the province she is supposed to represent. Senator Wallin is using taxpayers’ money to travel around the country and to star in the Conservative Party’s fundraising activities."
When Mulcair asked Harper the loaded question as to whether it is acceptable for taxpayer money to be used for political fundraising, the prime minister jumped to Wallin’s defence.
"I have looked at the numbers. Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over the period of time," Harper said. "Last year Senator Wallin spent almost half of her time in the province she represents in the Senate. The costs are to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do."
But Harper muted his staunch defence of Wallin’s claims less than two weeks later and backed away from the suggestion he personally reviewed her expenses.
"What is interesting is that last week, the prime minister told the House that he had personally reviewed the cases of Duffy and Wallin and that there was nothing wrong, which is all the more interesting given the fact that they have decided to reimburse hundreds of thousands of dollars they were not entitled to receive," Mulcair said during question period.
Harper avoided mentioning Wallin by name in his response.
"We have been very clear, as has the Senate and all senators," Harper said. "They are reviewing all of their expenses to ensure not only that the expenses are appropriate but the rules in the future for governing such expenses are appropriate. That is a commitment that has been made on this side."
Harper's communications director Andrew MacDougall told reporters the prime minister never intended to suggest he'd personally reviewed or approved Wallin's expenses.
"I don't believe the PM said he'd personally reviewed her expenses," MacDougall said in an email to The Canadian Press. "He was referencing the fact that the total amount of Senator Wallin's expenses was comparable to other parliamentarians from Saskatchewan."
Wallin quit the Conservatives to sit as an independent in May. A source told The Canadian Press that she was told by Harper she was no longer welcome in caucus.
With files from The Canadian Press
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