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OTTAWA — A former Conservative cabinet minister is on the stand at the Mike Duffy trial to shed some light on a taxpayer-funded trip the embattled former Conservative senator took to the West Coast in 2009.

Gary Lunn, who was defeated in a British Columbia riding in 2011 by Green party Leader Elizabeth May, is testifying about an event Duffy was supposed to attend on Labour Day weekend six years ago.

Lunn says there was a “casual” arrangement for Duffy to attend the Saanich Fair, an annual event that draws more than 60,000 people, but that Duffy did not end up attending

During cross-examination, Duffy’s lawyer Donald Bayne pressed the witness to explain why.

Court has heard the local Conservative electoral association did not want to foot the bill for Duffy and opted to cancel the appearance, but it was not clear when that happened.

The Crown alleges Duffy improperly charged taxpayers to travel to Vancouver so he could attend a family event.

Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in connection with his housing and travel expenses — the result of a spending controversy that spawned the exhaustive forensic audit currently roiling the ranks of the upper chamber.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson is set to release his findings on Tuesday, but The Canadian Press has already confirmed that the files of nine senators — two sitting, seven already retired — are being recommended for referral to the RCMP.

Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a victims-rights champion who was appointed by Harper in 2010, said Thursday he would sit as an Independent after confirming he’s the subject of a police investigation.

Sen. Colin Kenny, the other sitting senator on the RCMP list, marks 31 years in the upper chamber at the end of June after having been appointed by Pierre Trudeau in 1984.

Earlier Friday, Bayne said it was “too early to tell” if the auditor general’s report will make its way into the trial.

The report also flags the expenses of three senior senators — government leader Claude Carignan, Speaker Leo Housakos and Opposition leader James Cowan — all of whom played a key role in putting a new arbitration process in place for senators who end up running afoul of the auditor.

“Absolutely” it’s unfair that Duffy did not have access to such a process, Bayne said outside court.

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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