06/10/2013 11:07 EDT

Justin Trudeau: Mac Harb Could Return To Liberals If He Sorts Out Senate Expense Issues


Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is facing criticism from Conservatives for saying he would "absolutely" welcome embattled Senator Mac Harb back to caucus if he can resolve his expense issues.

Trudeau appeared on Global’s "The West Block With Tom Clark" on Sunday and told Clark the expense issues dogging Harb and former Tory Senator Patrick Brazeau have been characterized by the Senate as misunderstandings or honest mistakes.

"For me, there’s a real difference between what Mac Harb is going through and what Senators Duffy and Wallin seem to have on their plate because they were put in place, of course, by the prime minister in order to be powerful, effective fundraisers," he said. "And that’s why Mike Duffy was given special treatment."

Trudeau did say there could be "stiffer consequences" if the RCMP, which is currently probing the expense scandal, finds bigger problems.

Harb left the Liberals last month after an independent audit found he'd improperly claimed $51,500 in Senate housing allowances. Harb, who now sits as an independent, disputes he must repay the money and intends to fight the matter in court.

According to a report from The Globe and Mail released Saturday, Harb is now being asked to return nearly $200,000 in improper housing and travel expenses.

A source familiar with a review of Harb’s expenses says Harb owes almost $135,000 in improper housing claims and $35,000 to $40,000 in mileage claims, with interest.

The Ontario senator, who represented an Ottawa riding as a Liberal MP for years and owns several properties in the capital, claimed a bungalow in Westmeath, near Pembroke, Ont., as his primary residence. He recently put the bungalow up for sale.

The audit found Harb spent only 21 per cent of his time at the Westmeath residence.

In a written statement at the time, Harb said it's irrelevant whether he spent more time in Ottawa than his designated primary residence.

"This criterium is not found in Senate regulations or guidelines and has never been communicated to senators or implemented by financial officers," he said.

Trudeau said last month he was "comfortable and happy" with Harb’s decision to step away from caucus.

But Conservatives pounced on Trudeau’s latest remarks as further proof he is unfit to be prime minister.

In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan accused Trudeau of standing by someone trying to "stick taxpayers" with a hefty bill. And, much like in question period over recent weeks, the Tory minister also brought up controversial Liberal Senator Pana Merchant.

From Van Loan’s statement:

Defending disgraced Senator Mac Harb isn't the only lapse in judgment on Justin Trudeau's part in recent weeks. Justin Trudeau continues to allow Liberal Senator Pana Merchant to sit in the Liberal Caucus despite uncertainty over the status of a $1.7 million offshore bank account that media have reported she has not declared publicly, as required by Senate rules. Justin Trudeau's defence of Senator Mac Harb and Pana Merchant is just more proof that the Liberal Leader lacks the judgment to be Prime Minister and is in over his head.

Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications, tweeted the Liberal leader was attempting to "defend the indefensible."

Many others took to Twitter to slam Trudeau’s position on Harb.

Twitter On Trudeau's Mac Harb Comments

But what do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

With files from The Canadian Press.