OTTAWA – Conservative Jacques Demers, who once mused he might quit the Senate in disgust over the expense scandal that continues to rock the government, now says he’s sticking around.
Demers told The Canadian Press he’s satisfied with measures to clean things up, including calling in the RCMP.
The former coach of the Montreal Canadiens said Wednesday he never lost faith in Stephen Harper, despite Opposition criticism of the prime minister which said he showed poor judgment in vouching for Senator Pamela Wallin’s expenses earlier this year.
Demers said Harper likely wasn’t completely informed. Harper’s office said Wednesday he was defending her overall expenses, not particular travel claims.
On Tuesday, the Senate called in the RCMP after an audit called into question a litany of dubious travel claims spanning nearly all of Wallin’s career as a senator, which began late in 2008.
The auditors flagged $121,348 in inappropriate expenses and called for further review of nearly $21,000 in additional claims.
Demers said in May that he was reflecting on his future in the Senate as allegations of improper expense filing swirled around Senator Mike Duffy.
Following the deposit of an auditor’s report criticizing Wallin and an order from a Senate committee to repay $120,000 to the public treasury, Demers says these issues need to be followed through.
He left it to the RCMP to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing with taxpayer funds in the Duffy and Wallin cases.
“Because you don’t have the right to touch taxpayers’ money,” said Demers.
“There are many Quebecers who are having difficulty making ends meet every day, to feed their children . . . without senators spending money and saying, ‘We didn’t know.'”
He said he didn’t understand the “errors” in Wallin’s accounts, pointing out he had been told what he could and could not claim when he arrived in the Senate and there are many people to consult if there’s any doubt.
Demers said any senator found to have committed a crime should be kicked out.
He said he remained proud to be a senator but acknowledged the situation had shaken him.
“Everywhere I went, people would look at me and ask questions. I felt guilty and I knew I had done nothing wrong.”
The spending scandal has prompted a debate on reform — and perhaps even abolition — of the upper chamber, whose unelected members draw a salary of more than $130,000 per year until age 75, while still being allowed to earn income elsewhere.