Audit into senators' housing allowances to be made public

OTTAWA – Potentially explosive audits into dodgy housing expenses claimed by three senators are expected to be made public today.

The Senate’s internal economy committee met for hours late Wednesday to review the audit results and is to meet again this morning to determine what action it will recommend be taken — including whether the RCMP should be asked to investigate possible fraud or whether repayment of improperly claimed housing allowances should be deemed sufficient to close the controversial file.

The committee’s report on the audits is expected to be tabled in the Senate this afternoon.

The audits deal with the housing allowances claimed by Conservative senators Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.

A separate audit is still being conducted into the travel expenses of Conservative Sen. Pamela Wallin.

Sources said the audits suggest Brazeau received about $30,000 in housing allowances he was not eligible to claim and Harb about $50,000.

Duffy repaid $90,000 in March after admitting he may have mistakenly claimed the housing allowance due to confusing Senate paperwork.

Duffy and Harb, who attended a portion of the committee’s Wednesday meeting, played down the significance of the audits.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Duffy.

Harb — who was accompanied by his lawyer, former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache — said he expects to be vindicated by the audit into his claims.

A senator whose primary residence is more than 100 km. outside the national capital area is entitled to claim up to $22,000 a year to compensate for maintaining a secondary home in Ottawa.

Duffy, a former journalist who has lived in the capital for years, claimed his cottage in Prince Edward Island as his primary residence, although he appears to spend little time there.

Harb, who represented an Ottawa riding as an MP and owns several properties in the capital, claimed a bungalow in Westmeath, near Pembroke, Ont., as his primary residence. He put the bungalow up for sale several weeks ago.

Brazeau, who had been living with his girlfriend just across the river from the capital in Gatineau, Que., claimed his father’s home in Maniwaki, Que., as his primary residence.

In an unrelated matter, Brazeau was forced to take a leave of absence from the Senate after he was charged with assault and sexual assault in February.

The furor over housing allowances erupted last fall and has cast a pall over the already much-maligned upper house.

It has also raised questions about whether Duffy and Wallin are entitled to sit in the Senate at all.

A senator is required by the Constitution to reside in the province he or she was appointed to represent. Duffy was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to represent P.E.I., Wallin to represent Saskatchewan.

Wallin’s travel expenses suggest she spends little time in her home province. But she maintains that’s because there are few direct flights to Saskatchewan and only direct flights are counted by the Senate as travel to one’s home province.