OTTAWA – Partisan Conservative fundraisers, a short hop to catch a flight to the sunny Caribbean and glitzy awards galas are just some of the expenses Sen. Pamela Wallin billed to taxpayers under the guise of Senate business.
The beleaguered Saskatchewan senator now faces the prospect of an RCMP probe as well as paying back more than $82,000 after an audit flagged a host of inappropriate travel claims dating back to her very first days in the upper chamber.
Wallin’s ability to travel on the taxpayers’ dime will also be restricted for at least the next 12 months, members of the Senate committee that reviewed the audit said Tuesday as they pledged to keep a close eye on her future claims.
“I believe I can speak for my colleagues on both sides when I say that we found aspects of the Deloitte report very troubling,” said Liberal Sen. George Furey, one of three senators on a steering committee who reported on the audit.
“We’re very conscious of our responsibility as committee members to ensure that all Senate resources are properly allocated.”
The former broadcaster has called the audit into her travel claims “fundamentally flawed and unfair,” and her attorney has complained to auditing firm Deloitte about constant leaks of confidential information.
“Virtually nothing has happened on this file involving communications from Sen. Wallin or Deloitte to the (Senate) committee which has not in some form or another found its way into the media,” lawyer Terrence O’Sullivan wrote.
Wallin’s office has yet to respond to a request for comment.
The audit examined every flight Wallin took over 1,369 days between Jan. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2012, between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, the province she represents — many of them with stopovers in Toronto of at least one night.
Deloitte auditors flagged $121,348 in inappropriate expenses and called for further review of nearly $21,000 in additional claims. Wallin has already repaid $38,000, and has since promised to reimburse any disallowed expenses — with interest — out of her own pocket.
The auditors also determined that $390,182 of the $532,508 claimed by Wallin for travel was appropriate.
Among the claims flagged in the audit as inappropriate:
— Billing $81 when she drove from her home in Wadena, Sask., to Saskatoon on April 15, 2009, to speak at a $100-a-plate fundraiser thrown by four Conservative riding associations;
— Billing $1,281 to fly to Toronto on Jan. 16, 2010, to attend a luncheon where the chief executive of Porter Airlines — a company on whose board Wallin sits as a member — gave a speech;
— Billing $230 to drive from Wadena to Saskatoon on April 15, 2011, to attend a Conservative fundraiser during the federal election campaign, and $235 for another campaign event four days later;
— Billing $2,042 to give the convocation address at the University of Guelph — where she was chancellor — on June 15, 2011;
— Claiming $511 to fly to Toronto on Feb. 1, 2012, to catch a flight to Punta Cana, where she spoke at a women’s conference;
— Claiming $741 to fly to Toronto on Feb. 25, 2012, to be a judge at the National Business Book Awards;
— Billing $1,620 to fly to Toronto on Mar. 25, 2011, to attend the Juno awards as a special guest.
The Deloitte audit also found that changes had been made retroactively to entries in Wallin’s electronic Microsoft Outlook calendar once the audit process had begun.
The report on the audit, which has been forwarded to the RCMP, makes specific reference to the inconsistencies in Wallin’s calendar entries as one issue the Senate itself can’t properly investigate.
“Over the course of its review, Deloitte encountered inconsistencies between the information obtained from Sen. Wallin and her executive assistant, and what they subsequently obtained through research and Outlook calendar backups,” says the steering committee report.
“Examples of these inconsistencies provided by Deloitte in its report elicit serious concerns that your committee considers cannot be addressed and resolved internally.”
Wallin says the discrepancies were the result of a formatting process that was aimed at co-operating with the audit, not subverting it.
“At no time did I attempt to mislead Deloitte in any way,” Wallin — who was not present during the review — said Monday. “We knew that Deloitte had a copy of the original calendars available to them at all times.”
Wallin claims Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk, the former chair of the Senate internal economy committee, told her to make the changes to her calendar. Tkachuk said he only told Wallin to omit irrelevant information about travel expenses from her electronic calendar.
A spokeswoman for the RCMP refused to talk about the audit or how it intends to proceed.
“We have not yet received the referral but when we do, other than to acknowledge receipt, our response remains: we are not in a position to comment on the matter,” Cpl. Lucy Shorey wrote in an email.
The ongoing Senate expense scandal — which has already ensnared former Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau as well as former Liberal Mac Harb — has been a persistent black eye for the upper chamber.
Senators are being openly jeered as a result, Furey acknowledged.
“Colleagues that I spoke to during the summer tell me that everywhere they go, they’re being mocked,” he said.
“They find it very difficult. It’s a difficult time for the institution, no question.”