The secret PMO fund that maybe never existed

The New Democrats and Conservatives get their money’s worth regardless
Nigel Wright, chief of staff for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appears as a witness at the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov.2, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Thomas Mulcair stood, smiled and, once his colleagues had finished applauding him, invoked the latest intrigue.

“Mr. Speaker,” he asked, staring down the Prime Minister’s chair, “did the former chief of staff to the Prime Minister have the authority to sign cheques drawing funds from the Conservative party?”

The Prime Minister was not present and this was apparently not a matter of sufficient importance to draw a cabinet minister and so Pierre Poilievre, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, Minister of State for I Know You Are But What Am I? and Chief Deflector of Whatever Stuff They’re Saying About Us Now, stood and assured the House that all expenses of the Conservative party are funded by party-controlled funds.

It is, indeed, the Conservative party’s assurance that no separate fund exists within the Prime Minister’s Office and that Nigel Wright had no signing authority over party funds. “We have one bank account we use for expenditures and it is managed by the Conservative Fund,” says a party spokesman. “Nigel Wright did not have the authority to approve a payment by the Conservative Fund. No one in the PMO did. All expenses had to be approved by the Conservative Fund.”

It is, meanwhile, the CBC’s assurance that a secret fund exists within the Prime Minister’s Office and that Mr. Wright had authority over that fund. Indeed, even when presented with the Conservative party’s assurances, the CBC stands by its story.

It was the CBC’s concern of last week that the Conservative party and the Prime Minister’s Office had not had much to say when asked to comment on the existence of a separate fund. It is said now by the Conservative party that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff is responsible for directing party-related expenses incurred by the Prime Minister to the Conservative party, which maintains a budget for those sorts of things.

Complicating matters are the musings of Chris Alexander.

“Mr. Speaker, this weekend, the Conservative parliamentary secretary who is responsible for this file, and not the one who just spoke,” Mr. Mulcair offered with his supplementary, invoking Mr. Alexander and assigning him an unofficial designation of responsibility, “once again acknowledged that Nigel Wright did control party funds. He said, ‘No one is denying that.’ ”

Once again, Mr. Alexander might complain, confusion is being perpetrated by the opposition parties. But surely his own words are not helping to clarify the situation. For while on Friday Mr. Poilievre was saying that no such fund existed, on Thursday and Saturday, Mr. Alexander was saying things that could be understood to suggest there was some kind of fund.

“Let us stop playing word games,” Mr. Mulcair proclaimed or demanded. “I will ask again. Did Nigel Wright have any control or signing authority of any kind over Conservative Party spending while working in the Prime Minister’s Office?”

Mr. Poilievre repeated his assurances.

“Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party of Canada controls the Conservative fund of Canada,” he explained. “That is the message that we have delivered from the very beginning.”

The New Democrats laughed.

“There is one account,” the parliamentary secretary continued. “It is controlled by the Conservative Party. It has been publicly known since the existence of the Conservative Party. It is reported to Elections Canada. Also, it is audited annually.”

Despite Mr. Mulcair’s vow of an end to word games, it was NDP MP Craig Scott who later attempted to entrap Mr. Poilievre.

“Mr. Speaker, on Friday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport rose in the House and claimed that no PMO-controlled Conservative fund existed, but on Saturday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence contradicted the member for Nepean—Carleton,” Mr. Scott reviewed. “Can the parliamentary secretary who was not telling the truth please stand and explain this contradiction?”

In his seat, Mr. Poilievre twirled his earpiece in his hand, then stood as he had to.

“Yay!” the New Democrats mocked.

“Mr. Speaker, can I tell you a secret?” Mr. Poilievre mockingly asked. “Do you promise you will not tell anybody? Do not tell the NDP. Do not tell the CBC. The Prime Minister of Canada is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and when there are Conservative Party of Canada expenses, including from its leader, it is paid by the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives around Mr. Poilievre feigned shock. “Oh!” they cried at the parliamentary secretary’s revelations.

“I have been meaning to get that off my chest for a while,” Mr. Poilievre explained. “Please do not tell the CBC. Please do not tell the NDP.”

Barring further revelations from the CBC’s sources or new explanations from Mr. Alexander, there might not be anymore to tell of this.