POLITICS

Harper Asked Why He Defended Pamela Wallin's Expenses

09/01/2015 02:08 EDT | Updated 09/01/2015 03:59 EDT

Just when Stephen Harper may have thought he was done facing questions on the campaign trail about senators' expenses, along comes Pamela Wallin.

CTV News reported Monday that the RCMP investigation into the ex-Conservative senator's expenses has been handed off to Crown prosecutors.

Wallin, a former journalist appointed by Harper in 2009 to represent Saskatchewan, could potentially face criminal charges.

The news immediately sparked recollections of when Harper told the House of Commons in February 2013 that he personally reviewed Wallin's travel expenses and found them to be above board.

At a campaign event in Burlington, Ont. Tuesday, CTV's Richard Madan was heckled and booed as he asked the Tory leader why he defended Wallin in the Commons when his office knew she had already reimbursed $38,000 in ineligible expenses at the time.

"Was this secret repayment part of a scheme to derail an audit and save Wallin's reputation as a Tory senator who you appointed?" Madan asked.

Harper responded carefully — as he has for weeks when asked about Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, and his current chief of staff Ray Novak.

"I said that all of the individual expenses of all senators would be looked at and those who were not following the rules would be held accountable. That is exactly what has happened in that and the case of every single senator," he said to applause.

When asked about the matter on Tuesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said in French that developments at Duffy's trial prove that Canadians cannot trust Harper to tell the truth.

"I expect that when we learn more about Ms. Wallin it will be exactly the same thing," Trudeau said. "The prime minister is not worthy of our trust."

Former Liberal Sen. Mac Harb has been charged with fraud and breach of trust related to his housing claims, as has ex-Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau.

Harper in 2013: I 'looked'at Wallin's expenses

Two years ago, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair grilled Harper repeatedly in question period about the expenses of Wallin, Duffy, and Brazeau. Mulcair's NDP has vowed to abolish the Senate, if elected.

On Feb. 13, 2013, Mulcair said that less than 10 per cent of Wallin's $300,000 in travel expenses was for travel to Saskatchewan.

"Sen. Wallin is using taxpayers' money to travel around the country and to star in the Conservative Party's fundraising activities," Mulcair charged.

"Does the prime minister believe it is acceptable for taxpayers' money to be used to raise money for his political party?"

Harper said he rejected Mulcair's "characterization," but then uttered words that could now surface more on the campaign trail.

"In terms of Sen. Wallin, I have looked at the numbers," he said. "Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time."

Harper noted Wallin spent nearly half her time in Saskatchewan the year before.

"The costs are to travel to and from that province, as any similar parliamentarian would do," he said.

Carl Vallee, Harper's former top spokesman, told Postmedia months later that the Tory leader was referring to Wallin's total travel claims, not individual cases.

Wallin also repaid an additional $100,000 to the Senate when a Deloitte audit concluded she claimed roughly 80 trips to corporate board meetings, social events, and political appearances.

With files from Althia Raj

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