In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence Chris Alexander said "no one is denying" the existence of a special discretionary Conservative Party fund controlled by the prime minister's chief of staff.
As CBC News reported Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright had control of a special discretionary fund in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) when he cut a $90,000 cheque to Senator Mike Duffy.
When first asked to explain various aspects of the fund earlier this week, Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said "the prime minister at times incurs expenses that are best paid by the party."
When asked "Is there any reason those funds could not have been used in the Duffy-Wright deal?" DeLorey replied that "no funds were used for that."
However, on Friday, the Conservative Party denied the existence of any such fund run by the PMO and called the CBC story "false" and "misleading."
According to Mulcair, if the partisan fund didn't exist, that would have been the Conservative Party's first answer.
"But it wasn't their first answer," Mulcair said, adding that "they started explaining it away" and "tried to come up with a new version."
"It doesn't wash," Mulcair said.
Tories send mixed messages
When first asked by host Evan Solomon if a fund exists that is controlled by the prime minister's chief of staff separate from the Conservative Party of Canada fund, Alexander said "it's the same fund, it's Conservative Party of Canada funds."
Alexander explained that "some [funds] were administered by officials in the prime minister's office because they control the prime minister's schedule."
"The discretion of the leader of the party matters," Alexander said, adding that the prime minister's "staff inside the PMO have the obligation to administer that."
Asked what the money in the special discretionary fund what used for under Wright, Alexander could not say but insisted every dollar in the fund was accounted for.
"We audit it and we report it to Elections Canada," Alexander said.
When pressed again on the question of whether a special discretionary fund controlled by the chief of staff exists and is separate from the Conservative Party of Canada fund — the same question that was posed to DeLorey days earlier — Alexander said "no one is denying that."
Asked once more to clarify that this special discretionary fund is indeed "separate" from the Conservative Party of Canada fund, Alexander repeated "no one is denying that."
However, speaking on a panel of MPs on CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Friday, Conservative MP Paul Calandra did deny that.
"There is no separate fund," Calandra said.
Speaking on that same panel, NDP MP Pat Martin said the Conservatives "are tying themselves in knots over some quagmire of contradictions here. It depends on who you talk to and when you talk to them, whether such a fund exists or not."
While the party said there was only one account used to cover expenses, the prime minister’s spokesperson said their office does have a budget for partisan events.
The money was provided by the party, but the budget was managed by the chief of staff because he knew which events the prime minister was attending, Andrew MacDougall told reporters during an unrelated briefing on Friday.
“He makes a judgement — is it government or political and if it’s for the Conservative party, it’s the Conservative party’s funds that will be used,” MacDougall said.
“The scandal would be if it was the other way.”
'Produce the cheque'
Alexander insisted the special discretionary fund controlled by the chief of staff was not used by Wright to help Duffy repay his ineligible senate expenses.
"That will be confirmed by independent investigation," Alexander said.
On Friday, the Opposition New Democrats formally asked Elections Canada to investigate the partisan fund controlled out of the PMO.
Mulcair is also calling on the Conservatives to produce a copy of the $90,000 cheque Wright gave to Duffy.
"They have the cheque, they have the ability to produce the cheque. The fact that they continue to refuse to produce it simply leaves all of those questions unanswered," Mulcair said.
Asked if producing the cheque would put all these questions to rest, Alexander said "I don't think, we don't think, it would serve the public interest very well to have a dribs and drabs investigation played out by cheques being shown in front of television cameras and so forth."
"When you want to get to the bottom of something you empower an independent office, an independent authority to look into it, as we have done with the ethics commissioner, as we have done with other independent authorities in this case."
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