New Brunswick Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen has recently stepped down from the Senate’s “Internal Economic Subcommittee.” The committee has been monitoring the economic affairs of fellow Senators involved in the ongoing expenses scandal.
The Governor General appointed Sackville-born Stewart Olsen to the senate on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recommendation in 2009. Stewart Olsen is a longtime confidante of the Prime Minister, and has worked closely with the Prime Minister since 2002.
Stewart Olsen cited a busy schedule, and a desire to spend more time working on issues facing New Brunswick, as reasons for her decision.
Mario Levesque, a political scientist at Mount Allison University, expressed skepticism over Stewart Olsen’s stated rationale for stepping down.
“Politicians will say that they want to focus on other affairs, [or] spend time with family, which may be true to an extent. However, they are at a point where they have been pushed to where they have to resign to prevent information from coming out, or simply to get out of the limelight,” he said.
“It’s suspicious. [It] suggests there’s something there, but we don’t know. Conducting an investigation now [on Stewart Olsen] is one way of finding out her full involvement in the matter.”
The decision came days after Mike Duffy, a much-scrutinized Senator, publicly singled out members of the Senate subcommittee, claiming Stewart Olsen and Senator David Tkachuk were prepared to issue a press release calling Duffy “unfit” to represent his province of Prince Edward Island if he did not cooperate with plans for repayment. Duffy said that while he did not break any Senate rules, Harper ordered him to repay the money regardless, as he was worried about how the voting base of the Conservative party were responding to the scandal.
Duffy was given a $90,000 cheque by former PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright to cover improperly claimed housing expenses. Harper has denied any knowledge of that exchange. Duffy’s revelations followed a threat by the Harper Government to suspend Senators Brazeau, Wallin, and Duffy due to “gross negligence.”
Stewart Olsen stated that Duffy’s comments regarding herself and the Senate controversy had no influence on her decision, maintaining that: “it was a very difficult process and I will welcome a change.” The Internal Economic Senate subcommittee was appointed in November of 2012 with the initial task of reviewing Senator Patrick Brazeau’s alleged outstanding housing expenses.
Along with Duffy and Brazeau, the Internal committee oversaw Senator Pamela Wallin’s auditors for expenses stemming from travel fees claimed from April 2011 to September 2012. Wallin was told to repay those charges upwards of $26,000 from “other travel” during the 2011 Federal election campaign.
Letters were sent out from the committee in May to Brazeau, giving the Senator thirty days to pay back the approximately $49,000 the senate says he owes in improper housing claims.