OTTAWA — The new Speaker of the Senate says the upper chamber’s spending rules didn’t need to spell out every detail of what was allowed to be expensed because much of it was “self-explanatory” and “intuitive” for senators.
Two independent auditors — those from Deloitte who were tasked with reviewing Mike Duffy’s expenses, and another group from KPMG who audited the Senate’s finances — decided that the rules were unclear and, to paraphrase KPMG, lacked enough detail that they could be misunderstood by senators.
Senate Speaker George Furey told Duffy’s defence trial Monday that many specific circumstances aren’t laid out in the rules.
Furey said there is nothing in the Senate’s rules or the handbook senators receive that says he can’t pay someone to cut down trees on his property, but senators should know that expensing such activities is not permissible.
The overriding theme of the Senate rule book and the senators’ handbook is that each senator is a trustee of the public purse and should keep that in mind when filing expense claims.
Furey said senators were urged to ask the Senate’s administration or the committee that oversees spending about any rule if they had any question, concern or misunderstanding about the rules and to do so before they filed an expense claim.
Duffy’s defence team has long argued that the Senate’s spending rules were unclear and ambiguous enough that Duffy could not have broken any rules, including those governing his duties as a senator, because the term was loosely defined.
Furey told the court that senators are given broad leeway when it comes to how they define parliamentary business given the broad range of activities they undertake.
A 2010 outside audit by firm Ernst &Young found “a lack of clear guidance and criteria” that would help senators understand what was a “parliamentary function” and what the Senate would pay for.
Furey told the court that the Senate’s internal economy committee, which oversees spending, was sometimes told by administrators that senators had questions about what they could charge for and what constituted a “parliamentary function.”
Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, also continued to make his case that the Senate didn’t always follow its own rules. He pointed out that Duffy didn’t always sign the monthly attendance sheets that senators file, which show how many sitting days they missed and for what reason. Instead, someone from the Senate clerk’s office would stamp it or sign it with the words “deemed as signed.” Furey said there was no rule he was aware of allowing that practice.
Furey also said he never signed a blank expense claim, something Duffy’s former assistant has testified the former Conservative senator did to facilitate paperwork.
Furey said he spoke to his Senate Liberals in caucus meetings about the issue and advised them against it, adding that Conservative senators were given the same advice behind closed doors by senior Tory senators.
Furey called signing blank expense forms “poor practice,” but said he had no first-hand knowledge of anyone doing it. When asked if he would do it, Furey was blunt: “I would not pre-sign a document because it would be open to abuse.”
Duffy has pleaded not guilty to 31 criminal charges stemming from his travel, office and housing claims.
Furey was on the three-member executive of the Senate committee that oversaw Duffy’s spending audit in 2013 and was appointed Speaker of the Senate last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He arrived in the courtroom Monday followed by lawyers from the Senate.
Bayne unsuccessfully argued that Furey shouldn’t be allowed to testify because he was only there to provide opinions, not facts, about Senate spending rules.
Earlier in the day, Bayne told court that Furey told investigators looking into Duffy’s spending that there was no need for rules defining primary and secondary residences for senators because the distinction was “self-explanatory.”
According to Duffy’s lawyer, Furey has already told investigators that a primary residence was where a senator’s spouse and dog lived and where “your local pub is.”