Senators keep mum on details of independent audit of Pamela Wallin's expenses

OTTAWA – Pamela Wallin was expected to address the findings of a long-awaited auditor’s report into her questionable travel claims Monday as the Conservative party sought to further distance itself from the embattled senator.

Media reports suggest Wallin — whose office did not return repeated requests for comment — will speak to reporters before members of the upper chamber get their first close look at an audit by private accounting firm Deloitte.

Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the leader of the government in the Senate, said Wallin will be expected to repay any inappropriate expenses.

“Our government will not tolerate the waste or abuse of the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians. We expect that any inappropriate expenses will be repaid,” LeBreton said in a statement.

“Sen. Wallin is no longer a member of the caucus and must be held accountable for her actions.”

Other key players in the spiralling Senate expense scandal were keeping quiet Monday.

A three-person steering committee from the Senate’s board of internal economy was discussing the findings and drafting its own report behind closed doors after hearing a presentation from Deloitte.

“It’s interesting. I’m quite sure you will find it interesting as well,” the committee chairman, Conservative Sen. Gerald Comeau, told a group of reporters after the meeting broke for lunch.

“Some of it we were expecting.”

Wallin was audited for about $321,000 in travel and housing expenses that she has claimed since Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed her to the upper chamber in January 2009.

The former broadcaster, who now sits as an independent, has so far paid back $38,000 to the Senate, but media reports say Wallin could be ordered to repay as much as $140,000 — and that attempts were made to alter some of the claims after auditors got involved.

The auditors, who left the hearing room Monday without stopping to speak to reporters gathered outside, were expected to return later in the day to brief a larger group of senators.

The findings of the steering committee — comprising Comeau, Liberal Sen. George Furey and Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen — will go before the full Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration later in the day before the audit report is released on Tuesday.

Wallin has been provided a copy of the Deloitte audit, Comeau said.

The senator has also been invited to appear before a Senate committee when it reconvenes at 9 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

“She’s invited to come with the committee and to spend the day, tomorrow, with us as we progress through both the study of the Deloitte report and the report that the internal economy (board) will be making to the Senate,” Comeau said.

He added he doesn’t know if Wallin will attend, but “somebody suggested she might come.”

Liberal Sen. Terry Mercer, chair of the Senate Liberal caucus, said he wasn’t sure whether Wallin would be at the meeting later Monday when Deloitte auditors were to reprise their briefing.

“She’s invited. It’s up to her,” Mercer said.

“I don’t know what’s in the report, so I’m not sure. I mean, she has a right to defend herself, a right to obviously see it. We have to presume that she’s done nothing wrong until we’re told otherwise, until we see the evidence. That’s what we’re going to do tonight.”

Furey, who was vocal in his objections to controversial Conservative amendments the steering committee made to a similar auditor’s report on Sen. Mike Duffy, said he has not had similar problems with the Wallin report.

“If you’re asking me if I’m happy with the discussions to date that I’m having with my two colleagues, yes I am,” Furey said.

Wallin is one of a handful of senators facing allegations of questionable spending, along with former Conservative caucus members Duffy and Patrick Brazeau, as well as Mac Harb, who is also sitting as an independent after leaving the Liberal caucus.

Duffy’s own audit identified more than $90,000 in questionable expenses and housing-allowance claims — a tab that was picked up courtesy of a now-infamous payment from former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright.

The spending scandal has renewed calls from critics to reform or even abolish the Senate.

All politicians should be held to a higher standard and must fully disclose their expenses and justification for spending taxpayer dollars, said Liberal Sen. George Baker, a member of the board of internal economy.

“Any politician who turns around and says, ‘Oops, I made a mistake’ — nope, there’s no such thing as making an honest mistake that involves the taxpayer’s money,” Baker said.

“(Your expense) either pertained to your position as a member of Parliament, or it pertained to your position as a senator. There’s no grey area in between.”

The Senate’s decision to disclose reports on internal matters will put pressure on the secretive House of Commons board of internal economy to do the same, he added.

“The Senate has made a conscious decision to go public with all of these matters, and I think this will cause the House of Commons to do the same thing,” Baker said.

“Canadians will be expecting that their proceedings will be released, that their recommendations be released publicly.”