OTTAWA – Sen. Pamela Wallin struck a defiant tone Monday after what she called a “fundamentally flawed and unfair” audit flagged more than $140,000 worth of travel claims dating back to her earliest days in the upper chamber.
But Wallin, citing her desire to get back to her work representing the people of Saskatchewan, promised to pay back — with interest — any disallowed expenses “out of my own resources” once she is asked to do so.
Sources familiar with the 95-page Deloitte audit say it recommends that the embattled former Conservative pay back $121,000 in travel costs, and that an additional $21,000 worth of claims be more closely examined
But Wallin made no apologies for traversing the country to champion causes.
“When appointed to the Senate in 2009, I was determined to be an activist senator — one who saw it as her job to advance causes that are important to Canadians,” she told a hastily assembled news conference.
“When invited to appear publicly and speak … I saw it as my duty to accept whenever I was able to do so. Travel to these public speeches and appearances was — and is, in my continuing view — a legitimate Senate expense.”
Wallin took issue with the way accounting firm Deloitte, which conducted the audit, used more recently established rules governing Senate travel and expenses to assess the validity of earlier claims.
“It is my view that this report is the result of a fundamentally flawed and unfair process,” she said.
“Deloitte has — wrongly, in my view, and in the opinion of my lawyers — applied the 2012 changes made to the senators’ travel policy retroactively. The result is that travel expenses which were approved and paid by Senate finance in 2009, 2010 and 2011 have, in a number of cases, now been disallowed.”
Wallin said she never knowingly tried to claim expenses that she didn’t believe were legitimate Senate business.
“I want to be absolutely clear. I never intended to seek, nor sought, reimbursement for travel expenses in any situation where I did not believe such a claim was proper,” she said.
“Where I made mistakes, I have already paid money back.”
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.
A number of additional flights between Ottawa and other locales are also called into question by the audit, the source said.
Conservative Sen. Marjory LeBreton, the leader of the government in the Senate, said Wallin will be expected to repay any expenses that didn’t pass muster.
“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.”
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report had not yet been made public, said the audit cites an instance where Wallin attended a convocation ceremony at the University of Guelph, where she was chancellor, but also claimed to be on Senate business for World Bank meetings that same day.
Wallin’s pledge to repay the claims with her own money was an apparent reference to disgraced Senate colleague Mike Duffy, whose $90,000 in disallowed claims were paid by former Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright.
She also addressed allegations in the report that changes had been made retroactively to entries in her electronic calendar once the audit process had begun. That was the result of a formatting process that was aimed at co-operating with the audit, not subverting it, she said.
“At no time did I attempt to mislead Deloitte in any way,” Wallin said. “We knew that Deloitte had a copy of the original calendars available to them at all times.”
A three-person steering committee from the Senate’s board of internal economy discussed the findings Monday and was 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, said of the audit report after the meeting broke for lunch.
“Some of it we were expecting.”
Wallin was audited for about $321,000 in travel 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, and predicted that the bill would continue to climb.
The findings of the steering committee — comprising Comeau, Liberal Sen. George Furey and Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen — went before the full Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration.
Wallin was in attendance, sitting at the end of a long table next to Conservative Sen. Hugh Segal.
The complete audit report is to be released Tuesday.