Senate scandal preoccupies House of Commons as byelections play out

OTTAWA – The cacophony of the Senate expenses scandal is blaring on in the House of Commons as opposition members press for answers on what Prime Minister Stephen Harper knew about his chief of staff’s decision to pay Mike Duffy’s expenses.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair suggested in the House there was a “criminal coverup” organized out of Harper’s own office.

Paul Calandra, Harper’s parliamentary secretary, says that only Nigel Wright and Duffy are the subject of an RCMP investigation into the Senate scandal, not the prime minister.

He also returned fire to Liberals in the House with frequent references to the sponsorship scandal under former prime minister Jean Chretien.

Jason MacDonald, the prime minister’s spokesman, provided Harper’s version of events on the current scandal over the weekend, a few days after the release of an explosive RCMP affidavit as part of its investigation.

It contained allegations casting doubt on the prime minister’s long-held insistence that he knew nothing about Wright’s plan to cut Duffy a $90,000 cheque to cover his expenses.

The RCMP affidavit cites an email from Wright to staff saying “we are good to go from the PM” after the two men sat down to discuss what to do about Duffy.

But MacDonald said that meeting consisted simply of a conversation about compelling Duffy to repay his expenses — estimated then to be at about at $32,000 — and that there was no plot hatched to have Wright write the cheque or to whitewash a Senate report on the disgraced senator.

Opposition members weren’t buying it Monday, the day that voters in four federal ridings were heading to the polls to cast their ballots in byelections.

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