The unofficial public audit of Senator Pamela Wallin’s expense account continues apace.
“Let us put the spending of these tax dollars into perspective,” NDP MP Wayne Marston graciously offered shortly before Question Period, referring to some $300,000 in “other” travel expenses apparently claimed by the Senator over the last few years. “This could have paid for one year of old age security for 57 seniors. It took the combined taxes of 28 hard-working Canadian families to pay for this person’s ‘other’ travel. Think about it. Every single dime in taxes for 28 Canadian families just to cover this senator’s ‘other’ travel.”
There is probably a worthwhile proposal here somewhere to make the Senate entirely dependent on voluntary public pledges.
A minute later, Thomas Mulcair stood and pegged the Senator’s travel expenses at $350,000 over a 27-month period. The NDP leader was displeased, but the Prime Minister was apparently unconcerned.
“Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, the amount spent by the Senator for travel is similar to that of other parliamentarians,” he said.
In fact, Mr. Harper had an example.
“Just to give an example of that, for instance, over the past three years the average amount spent on travel to and from provinces by western members of the New Democratic Party has been $350,000,” the Prime Minister reported, having apparently stayed up late last night to do the math. “These are the costs that parliamentarians incur when they travel back and forth from Ottawa to their provinces. That is what the senator has done. Of course, all senators and members are committed to ensuring these expenses are appropriate.”
Mr. Mulcair was not quite persuaded to drop the subject.
“Mr. Speaker, $13,000 a month in travel expenses even when the Senate is not sitting is certainly not comparable to other senators,” he declared. “Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin has spent more money on travel outside her supposed home province than any other senator. Even the Conservative committee chairman charged with investigating corruption in the Senate has questioned her travel expenses, calling them very unusual.”
Now the NDP leader leaned in to directly stare down the seated Prime Minister. “In fact,” Mr. Mulcair ventured, “maybe Pamela Wallin is just a typical Conservative senator after all: unelected, unaccountable and under investigation.”
The Prime Minister began to stand up here, apparently thinking Mr. Mulcair was through, but the NDP leader did still have a question to state (if only for the sake of formality). “Will the Prime Minister continue to defend this blatant abuse of public funds or stand up for taxpayers?” he asked.
Mr. Harper would offer reassurances. “Mr. Speaker, once again, the senator spends almost half of her time in the province she represents in the upper house. Her travel costs on Senate business are, in fact, comparable to others. All senators and members of the House are fully prepared and committed to have an examination of expenses to ensure that they are appropriate,” he explained. “That is the commitment that this government has made in both chambers, a commitment we will keep.”
After several rounds to deal with decidedly more profound matters, the House returned to Senator Wallin’s travel habits and Peter Van Loan was compelled to stand and attempt to deflect. “Mr. Speaker, as has been indicated, Senator Wallin’s spending on travel is comparable to that of other parliamentarians from the same region, including western NDP parliamentarians,” he protested. “Apparently it is all right for them to spend that money, but when a Conservative senator spends it, travels and represents their community, and is there for 168 days for the people of Saskatchewan, it is somehow inappropriate.”
Given that the New Democrats favour abolishing the Senate, this was perhaps not quite the charge of hypocrisy that Mr. Van Loan thought it was.
“The NDP members’ real concern is that Conservatives are representing their communities,” the Government House leader continued. “Their problem is that they do not have anyone in Saskatchewan to represent the NDP.”
So perhaps the New Democrats could drop their objections to Ms. Wallin’s expenses and the Conservatives could drop their objections to the more NDP-friendly new riding boundaries in Saskatchewan and the two sides could call it even.
The NDP’s Charlie Angus finished the official opposition’s testimony for the day with a flourish. “Let us bring a few more things forward,” he offered. “During the last election she was charging $25,000 to the taxpayer for ‘other travel.’ She was showing up at party fundraisers in places like Moose Jaw and Collingwood.”
Various Conservatives audibly questioned the inclusion of Moose Jaw in Mr. Angus’ indictment. And, indeed, as their bemused grumbling seemed to suggest, Moose Jaw is a town in Saskatchewan. And so, at the very least, that much can be said in Ms. Wallin’s defence: whatever she was doing during the last election and however much it cost the public treasury, at least, in that particular case, she was doing it in the province she was appointed to represent.