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Revelations in expense scandal engulf Senate

News that the AG report had landed sent the Senate spinning


 
The Senate chamber on Parliament Hill is seen May 28, 2013 in Ottawa. The federal government isn't giving up on its bid to thwart a court challenge aimed at compelling Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fill Senate vacancies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

(Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press)

By Jordan Press and Kristy Kirkup

OTTAWA—The long-simmering Senate expense scandal came to a rolling boil Thursday as revelations in a hard-hitting spending audit sent three of the upper chamber’s most prominent members spinning into damage control and another Conservative running from the Conservative government caucus.

Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a victims-rights champion who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2010, declared he would sit as an Independent after confirming he’s the subject of a police investigation — one of two sitting senators whose expense claims have been recommended for referral to the RCMP.

The decision was just the latest revelation in a remarkable Thursday afternoon of sudden, rapid-fire developments, all of them triggered by the delivery of auditor general Michael Ferguson’s long-awaited but not-yet-public audit of housing, travel and office expenses in Canada’s perennially troubled Senate.

Though Boisvenu said he left voluntarily, it was clear he’d been swept up by the same political maelstrom that cast aside former colleagues Patrick Brazeau and Pamela Wallin and, of course, Mike Duffy, who’s currently standing trial on 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Eight more face a similar situation. Multiple Senate sources confirmed that the paperwork of Liberal Colin Kenny could be sent to the RCMP along with the files of seven retired senators: former Liberals Sharon Carstairs, Marie-P. Charette-Poulin, Rose-Marie Losier-Cool, Bill Rompkey and Rod Zimmer; and former Tories Donald Oliver and Gerry St. Germain.

Adrian Wyld/CP

(Adrian Wyld/CP)

A separate group of 21 senators deemed by Ferguson to have made questionable claims include Speaker Leo Housakos; James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate; and Cowan’s Conservative counterpart, Claude Carignan, who all confirmed Thursday that they were red-flagged in the audit. Housakos, however, said Ferguson is being “nit-picky.”

Housakos and Carignan explained their circumstances late Thursday during an emergency meeting of the Tory Senate caucus, sources said.

Housakos told The Canadian Press he disagrees with some of Ferguson’s findings, although he’s already repaid $1,600 in disputed travel expenses that a staffer claimed for mileage between Ottawa and Montreal.

The staff member was helping with a fundraising event for a non-profit organization in Montreal, said Housakos, who reimbursed the Senate for the expenses after auditors pointed out such expenses weren’t eligible under Senate rules.

Housakos said the auditor general is also challenging him on about $6,000 worth of contracts he issued rather than hire a full-time policy adviser. Ferguson had taken exception to the wording of the contracts, but Housakos said he plans to appeal the decision, saying there was no deliberate attempt to mislead the Senate.

“I think the auditor is being, in my particular case, nit-picky,” Housakos said, arguing that his contracting arrangements actually saved the Senate money.

“I’ve done nothing but be transparent. These were two errors discovered by the auditor general that had no malintent.”

The Senate received Ferguson’s report, which is about 120 pages, Thursday afternoon.

Carignan’s office said the Conservative Senate leader wound up on the list of 21 in relation to a $3,000 travel bill from one of his aides who filled out a Senate expense form improperly. The staffer paid the money back in March.

Cowan said his case involves just over $10,000 worth of travel claims, over which he said he’s having a “respectful disagreement” with Ferguson.

Like Housakos, Cowan said he’ll likely appeal Ferguson’s finding to Ian Binnie, a former Supreme Court justice chosen to act as a special independent arbitrator. By repaying the Senate, Carignan won’t appeal the auditors’ findings.

Housakos, Cowan and Carignan were instrumental in setting up the appeal process — raising questions about potential conflict of interest.

Cowan insisted the trio acted “responsibly” in setting up a process that would be fair and equitable for all senators.

“I think it is a fair report and I think that the process that we have set in place to deal with these issues, like mine, is fair,” he said outside the Senate chamber. “I and others will abide by the result.”

Cowan said his disputed travel claims revolve around a disagreement over what constitutes parliamentary business.

The claims were for three trips to Toronto in 2011. Cowan said they were all properly supported and documented with invoices and boarding passes and were accepted by Senate administrators without question.

Moreover, they were undertaken “as part of my duties as a senator to deal with issues I have spoken publicly about and have introduced bills in the Senate to deal with.”

“Now, four years later, the auditor general suggests that I should have … retained more information which I simply do not have. I was not required to and I don’t have that information.”

Senator Patrick Brazeau leaves Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 23, 2013. (CP photo)

Senator Patrick Brazeau leaves Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 23, 2013. (CP photo)

The arbitration process was not available to Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin when they were suspended from the Senate over dubious expense claims. Duffy and Brazeau, along with former senator Harb, have since been charged with fraud and breach of trust while Wallin remains under police investigation.

Cowan objected to the suspensions at the time, noting there was then no process in place to ensure fair treatment. “We now have a process developed and this is the kind of process which we should have had in place when we dealt with those senators.”

Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais called the report into question not only for its reported $20-million price tag, but also the investigator and his techniques.

“Me, when I was doing my investigations, I did not do them like (Ferguson did); let’s say, maybe, that I went a little deeper,” the former police officer said in French.

“$20 million charged to taxpayers … to reveal a few thousand dollars (of alleged misspending). We’ll see if it was all worth it.”

With files from Lina Dib, Melanie Marquis and Joan Bryden


 

Revelations in expense scandal engulf Senate

  1. Permanent layoff

    A permanent layoff is the permanent severing of the employment relationship by the employer for:

    economic reasons. Example: financial difficulties, a decline in revenues

    organizational reasons. Example: a reorganization resulting in the abolition or the merging of positions

    technical reasons. Example: technological innovations.

    An employer lays off his employee permanently when the employer no longer requires the employee’s services. The employer’s choice is based on objective criteria, such as:

    performance
    skills
    versatility
    seniority.

    http://www.cnt.gouv.qc.ca/en/end-of-employment/layoff-permanent-layoff-dismissal-and-resignation/index.html#c7583

  2. This article does not contain comments from MPs. But don’t you find them, especially the NDP ones, sanctimonious when they are scandalized by such minuscule amounts like $3, 6 or 10K? Do you think they would agree to let the House of Commons expenses scrutinized by the AG the same way he did it for the Senate? I am sure it won’t happen because they are afraid that their house of cards would also fall. BTW we don’t have yet all the details but based on the 3 examples cited here I get the feeling the AG did a lot of nit picking. Certainly not worth $21M.

  3. It appears that I was only one senator off, in my satire on the Senate published last fall. On p. 126 of “On Sober Second Thought” I had three Conservatives and five, not six, Liberals in the headlines for excessive spending. News of RCMP investigations comes on p. 145. The book is published by Heartland Associates of Manitoba but isn’t widely available in bookstores other than two independents in Ottawa and one in Winnipeg.

  4. The senate is a very good functioning part of our federal institutions, it’s just in need of a bad repair of reforms and chain of command ASAP. It needs fresh eyes, and the only way to allow sunshine in, is to change the way we appoint senators in the future, it doesn’t need to be abolished, we don’t need to fall into another constitutional battle into abyss between provinces, the economy is a more important to the country, than a constitutional fight with provinces. It just needs someone with strong leadership and fortitude to bring trust with a more open and transparent chamber of second sober thought, and you don’t need constitutional changes to get there, that’s all it takes is the will to get us to that point. Just because you don’t like the way an embedded institution is run our country, doesn’t mean you need to dismantle it, if we all felt that way, their wouldn’t be much left to our parliamentary institutions, because the more you chip away at how our democracy works and try to dismantle it, we could be left with nothing more than, dear I say, An Orwellian Society, autocratic governments, and as long as this government has its hands on the wheel, I feel, it may be a lost cause.

  5. I have ZERO faith govmint can reform the senate. They have been trying for over 100 years and is an absolute FAILURE.

    Abolish the utterly useless patronage pork barrel we call a senate.

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