Harper shouldn't have vouched for Wallin's expense claims, Liberals say

OTTAWA – The federal Liberals say Prime Minister Stephen Harper exercised poor judgment when he vouched for Sen. Pamela Wallin’s expense claims earlier this year.

Liberal MP Stephane Dion and Sen. James Cowan, the party’s leader in the Senate, say it’s just part of an ongoing pattern of dubious decisions on the part of the prime minister.

Harper told the House of Commons in February he had personally looked at Wallin’s travel costs, saying they were on par with other parliamentarians travelling between Ottawa and Saskatchewan.

“In terms of Sen. Wallin, I have looked at the numbers,” Harper said at the time. “Her travel costs are comparable to any parliamentarian travelling from that particular area of the country over that period of time.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has since said that Harper was only talking about Wallin’s overall travel expenses, not individual claims.

On Tuesday, the Senate called in the RCMP after an audit flagged a host of inappropriate travel claims dating back to Wallin’s earliest days in the upper chamber.

The 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.

Dion, the former Liberal leader who is now the party’s democratic reform critic, also cited Harper’s defence of his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, for five days before accepting his resignation. Wright wrote a $90,000 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy to cover his inappropriate expense claims.

“At first glance, the prime minister should have seen the red flags. It should have raised alarms. Without indeed knowing all the details at first glance, at broad review, he should have seen the problems,” Dion said.

“The pattern is repeating itself.”

In the latter case, Harper and several ministers insisted that only Wright was aware of the arrangement with Duffy. It has since emerged that three other senior staffers in the Prime Minister’s Office also knew about the payment.

“Now the RCMP has said that three people in the direct entourage of the prime minister and his office were aware, in addition to a Conservative senator,” Dion said.

The New Democrats are scheduled to hold their own news conference later today on the Wallin audit.