Conservatives block key witness on Duffy audit

Conservative senators blocked a bid Thursday to have a key figure from the audit firm Deloitte testify about alleged interference into the review of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses.

OTTAWA — Conservative senators blocked a bid Thursday to have a key figure from the audit firm Deloitte testify about alleged interference into the review of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expenses.

The move came as the Senate’s internal economy committee heard from three other Deloitte partners about the audit they had done into Duffy’s living claims between February and May.

Deloitte’s Gary Timm confirmed what had been revealed in a police report last week — that Michael Runia, one of the firm’s managing partners, called him to inquire about the Duffy audit. Runia was not a member of the audit team.

An RCMP court filing last week revealed that Runia made the call at the request of Conservative Sen. Irving Gerstein, who in turn had been prompted by the Prime Minister’s Office.

“As I indicated before, he wanted to know if Senator Duffy were to repay (his expenses), how much would that amount be,” Timm said of Runia.

“And I said I couldn’t tell him; I couldn’t disclose any confidential information to him. That was the gist of the conversation.”

Timm said that he notified others at the firm about the call, but no report was made back to the Senate committee — Deloitte’s client — about the matter.

When Liberal Sen. George Furey later moved to have Runia appear to answer questions, Sen. Gerald Comeau, the Conservative chairman of the committee, ruled against him, saying it’s not the committee’s job to conduct police-style investigations.

A subsequent vote, which included Comeau’s Conservative colleagues, upheld the ruling, much to Furey’s disappointment.

“Mr Runia is a very intricate part of that, now that we know from Mr. Timm (that) the person we hired to do our forensic investigation was contacted by somebody else who had no business contacting him,” Furey said afterward.

“Now we’re told by our Conservative friends that we cannot ask that person to come before the committee and explain his involvement.”

Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal, who attended the committee but did not have a vote, said he too would have liked to hear from Runia.

“I think the notion of having a formal conversation with him before a committee would have been useful,” Segal said.

Deputy Liberal Senate Leader Joan Fraser later served notice that she would bring a motion on Tuesday that Runia be called to the committee — forcing the entire upper chamber to vote on the issue.

The topic of the Deloitte audit continued to resonate down the hall in the Commons.

“Why does the Prime Minister have his Conservative senators blocking the testimony of Michael Runia if he has nothing to hide?” asked NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

“What we saw today was that Deloitte appeared before the Senate internal economy committee, took questions and reaffirmed that the forensic audit was conducted with the highest standards and the utmost confidentiality,” said Harper’s parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra.

The RCMP files raised many questions about potential interference by the Prime Minister’s Office into the audit.

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