Senate leaders repay Senate expenses, deny wrongdoing

Leo Housakos and James Cowan say they have repaid the money, though they disagree with Ferguson's conclusion they filed improper expense claims

Maclean’s On the Hill discussed the latest Senate expense scandal and more in the latest episode of our politics podcast:

OTTAWA – Two of the Senate’s most influential members have repaid thousands of dollars in expenses flagged by auditor general Michael Ferguson and are backing down on their plans to challenge his findings.

Senate Speaker Leo Housakos and Senate Liberal leader James Cowan say they have repaid the money, even though they disagree with Ferguson’s conclusion that they filed improper expense claims.

In a statement, Housakos said he has repaid about $6,000 for questionable contracts from his office and travel claims for one of his staff.

“I remain steadfast in my belief that all of my actions as a senator and now as Speaker have been in good faith, in adherence with the rules governing the Senate and most of all with due regard for Canadians.”

Cowan said he has repaid about $10,000 for travel Ferguson says wasn’t for parliamentary business.

“I stand by my position that all expenses charged by me to the Senate were, and will continue to be, entirely appropriate,” his statement says.

Senate government leader Claude Carignan has also already repaid about $3,000 in dubious travel claims for one of his staff.

The trio faced tough questions from their colleagues last week over why, despite being named in Ferguson’s report, they were involved in setting up an arbitration process that gives senators a chance to potentially quash Ferguson’s findings.

Housakos, Cowan and Carignan were accused of having a conflict of interest for setting up a process that could end up helping them.

It was two weeks ago that Housakos announced former Supreme Court justice Ian Binnie as the special arbitrator to oversee spending disputes between senators and the auditor general.

Housakos said he repaid the money he didn’t want any questions about the “integrity of the process or the manner in which it was implemented.”

Cowan, too, denied any conflict of interest, saying he continues to “respectfully disagree” with Ferguson’s claim that three trips to Toronto in 2011 were for personal events, rather than parliamentary business.

“I have taken this action solely to remove any lingering perceptions about the integrity of the arbitration process.”

Ferguson’s audit, which singles out nearly $1 million in problematic spending by 30 senators, is scheduled to be released Tuesday.

Already, nine senators have had their files referred to the RCMP for a criminal review. A further 21 senators — Cowan, Carignan and Housakos among them — have been flagged with problematic claims.

Ferguson’s report calls on the Senate to create an independent body to oversee spending so senators are no longer policing their peers.

The report, a copy of which was reviewed by The Canadian Press, calls for “transformational change” in Senate spending, and urges senators to act quickly on the recommendations.

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