What to expect from the Senate audit

What to expect in today’s Senate spending audit

Dollar figures but no details in report that will call for an overhaul of system



Michael Ferguson (CP photo)OTTAWA — After almost two years of work, auditor general Michael Ferguson’s long-awaited audit of Senate spending is about to be released to the public.

Many of the details have already been leaked: the names of the 30 senators whose spending was flagged, including nine whose files have been sent to the RCMP; the amounts each of them owe and the amount they paid back; and Ferguson’s observations about attitudes in the Senate towards taxpayer dollars.

All that’s missing are the details. But anyone looking for them today —Where did senators travel? How many extra nights did they stay in one spot? What days did they claim per diems? — may be disappointed.

The report, which weighs in at nearly 120 pages, is a series of summaries on the audit of each of the 30 senators in question — flagged either because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove they followed the rules, or conflicting evidence prevented auditors from reaching a conclusion.

Ferguson’s two-year review of 80,000 transactions totalling about $180 million found almost $977,000 in problematic spending. He cites a lack of “oversight, accountability, and transparency,” saying senators didn’t always ensure that their expenses “were justifiable, reasonable, and appropriate.”

“The weaknesses and problems uncovered in the course of this comprehensive audit of senators’ expenses call for a transformational change in the way expenses are claimed, managed, controlled, and reviewed,” Ferguson writes in the report, a copy of which was viewed by The Canadian Press.

“Simply changing or adding to existing rules will not be enough. Improvements in oversight, accountability, transparency, and senators’ consideration for the cost to taxpayers are needed to resolve the issues that we have identified.”

The audit recommends an independent oversight body of experts be established to decide whether an expense claim falls inside or outside Senate rules.

It also calls for regular, outside audits of spending to promote “diligence and discipline” from senators, staff and the administration responsible for spending public dollars.

Such a system would have prevented the sort of snowballing problems that engulfed disgraced senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau, the report says.

On Monday, a trio of top senators — Speaker Leo Housakos, his deputy Nicole Eaton, and Senate Liberal leader James Cowan — said they would pay back the money, even though they felt they had done nothing wrong.

Combined, their bill was about $20,000, with Cowan accounting for half of that. Senate government leader Claude Carignan has also already repaid about $3,000 in dubious travel claims for one of his staff.

The trio faced tough questions from their colleagues last week over why, despite being named in Ferguson’s report, they were involved in setting up an arbitration process that gives senators a chance to potentially quash Ferguson’s findings.

Housakos, Cowan and Carignan were accused of having a conflict of interest for setting up a process that could end up helping them.

Housakos said he repaid about $7,500 in all for travel by a staffer and contracts handed out through his office before he became Speaker because he didn’t want to impugn the “integrity of the process or the manner in which it was implemented.”

Cowan, too, denied any conflict of interest, saying he continues to “respectfully disagree” with Ferguson’s claim that three trips to Toronto in 2011 were for personal events, rather than parliamentary business.

“I have taken this action solely to remove any lingering perceptions about the integrity of the arbitration process.”

Eaton said Ferguson disallowed $3,489 worth of expense claims for four trips she made to Toronto to attend meetings of not-for-profit boards on which she sits. She said she disagrees with Ferguson’s conclusion that the trips were aimed at advancing her “personal interests.”

Senate spending rules, she said, allow senators to charge taxpayers for trips that have a “public interest.” Ferguson’s definition of “parliamentary function” will hamper senators from engaging in community service in future, she added.

A fourth high-profile senator went public Monday about being named in Ferguson’s report, saying the auditor general doesn’t have a “true appreciation” for the toll of regular, cross-country travel.

“Not only do Senate rules clearly allow for stopovers and overnight stays in the (national capital region) following the conclusion of Senate business, both are an intrinsic and unavoidable component of long-distance travel,” wrote David Tkachuk, who chaired the committee that oversaw Mike Duffy’s audit.

“It concerns me that if we were to accept the auditor general’s opinion of my travel, we would be setting an unachievable expectation of senators.”



What to expect in today’s Senate spending audit

  1. So the Audiitor General spent $20 + Million Taxpayer Dollars to uncover less than $2 Million in inappropriate expenses.

    Canada needs an elected Senate, an audit of the Auditor General’s department and Senator/MP expenses made publicly available on line on a monthly basis.

    • It’s even worse than that. The AG spent $21M to review 80.000 transactions amounting to $180M and in the end suggested the recovery of less than $1M, with more than half of that $1M accounted for by 5 people. The fraud/error rate was about one half of one per cent. I would bet than in most corporations or federal departments or in the House of Commons, a thorough audit would result in a higher error/fraud rate. As I said in other fora, the media, the NDP and all commentators are making a lot more of this issue than it really is.

    • How Canadian ….

  2. I was reading a Legion magazine as well as looking at an archeology magazine…btw I really enjoyed Maclean’s hockey tweets vs church tweets graphic.
    The MLB fans said GWB erroneously believed the Bible was a good (reference/model I forget). (while reading the bloodiest battle in the War of 1812) Our gvmt is about as good a chain of command as can be expected (in any country) now (said last yr in 35 yrs things could be improved with brain technology).
    Angry I want to improve the USA’s CofC as population isn’t educated enough. Romans didn’t want to fight for Rome after seeing bad leaders. Greece static due to civil war. Their city-state mythology was at least a big chunk of the reason Greece was exposed to being conquered. He thinks his mythology is superior to mine: that I or us humans will prevent AI on our world and surrounding worlds. As long as we prevent AI, it will not be an act of war against (him and?) his allies. They don’t want to micromanage, but as I repeated the question, he thinks our Senators should have expertise in preventing WMDs. Was reading/thinking of archaeology and the Viking ruins in northern NFLD, and he said I overvalue literacy, that the point of Jesus was respect for human rights and human dignity.
    Whether or not this is a trap, the Senate should have expertise in preventing WMDs. It can be the open complement to closed USA Intelligence Agencies where there is no danger of accidentally causing WMDs. Segal’s Senate book has excellent tables delineating the differences of Senates in different countries. Our country gives a phased concentration of power gradient depending on how trusting people and MPs are in the leader. A solid majority necessitates very strong checks of power. The Queen, The Senate, the GG, the Supreme Court, the Bank of Canada, are the only bulwarks against populist errors. IMO, not having Provincial Senates is part of the reason there are long healthcare waiting lists. If you kill the Senate, you need to artificially create opposition MPs or exercise some other check on power. The less educated people of Canada are sheep the will vote based on things like TV interview outtakes, which already now (after Duffy) erode a politician’s willingness to engage and inform the public. In England the PM declined a TV debate. I think much less of their system now.