CHARLOTTETOWN - Former prime minister Jean Chrétien says he is glad he was not the prime minister who appointed Mike Duffy to the Senate.
Chrétien was in Prince Edward Island Wednesday for a fundraising dinner.
In an interview with The Guardian, he said Duffy was always bugging him to be named to the Red Chamber.
“When he was in the lobby of the House of Commons, he would say, ‘Hi prime minister. I’m ready, I’m ready.’ He must have said that a hundred times,” Chrétien said.
“I had the good judgment not to name him, I guess.”
Since Duffy was constantly floating his own name as a possible candidate, Chrétien admits the idea did cross his mind.
He says the fact Duffy was not a resident of Prince Edward Island at the time would have given him pause, if he had ever seriously considered it.
“I would have thought twice before doing that, especially in a small province. You can do it in Ontario or Quebec where they have 24 (Senate seats), but when you have only four? People were not happy when the appointment was made here, I’m told. And understandably.”
The former Liberal prime minister was loathe to comment on the expenses scandal that has placed the Senate and the current prime minister’s office under intense public scrutiny.
He did say it is a ‘big problem’ for Stephen Harper.
“The problem is not only with the (three) senators, but what the prime minister’s office did is the biggest problem,” Chrétien said.
“Who knew and who did not know? Who is lying, who is not lying... There are always mistakes made in any institution, but this one is attracting a lot of attention. Everybody talks about it, every media, and it’s a big, big problem for the prime minister.”
Chrétien may not have appointed Duffy, Pamela Wallin or Patrick Brazeau, but he did appoint Mac Harb, a former Liberal senator who is also facing an RCMP investigation for inappropriate expense claims.
Harb was ordered to pay back more than $230,000, and resigned in August after paying the money back.
Chretien says the difference between Harb and the other three is – Harb stepped down.
“What he did, I don’t know. If he did something inappropriate he may have to pay back or face the courts, I don’t know. Anyway he’s gone so he’s not on the payroll of government anymore.”
The fallout of the Senate scandal has led to many to call for an outright abolishment of the Senate. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has been championing this idea since the summer.
Chrétien does not believe the Senate will ever be totally abolished, as such a feat would require unanimous consent of the provinces. But he did call this “a very sad period for the Senate at this time.”
As for any advice for Harper on dealing with this scandal, Chrétien says he will not share this publicly.
“If he called me, I would tell him. But he’s not going to call me.”