What is a senator's business?

Possibly the most interesting question raised by the case of Pamela Wallin

Global and Dale Smith muse on the questions about “Senate business” raised by the case of Pamela Wallin.

The CBC delves into some of Ms. Wallin’s specific endeavours.

Wallin said she believed it was part of her job to say yes to invitations to a lot of events on a wide range of issues. So she claimed expenses for attending a speech by former British prime minister Tony Blair in Toronto in 2010 on the war in Afghanistan. Same goes for a meeting with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, about environmental issues in Saskatchewan, or for a flight back to Ottawa in May 2011 to attend a reception at the prime minister’s house to celebrate a National Arts Centre program called Prairie Scene.

Deloitte auditors ruled all of these events were personal in nature, not Senate business, just some of the travel claims she is now being ordered to repay. But Conservative Senator Hugh Segal disagrees. “She would not have been invited if she wasn’t a senator from Saskatchewan, and the notion that she wouldn’t be supportive to represent the best of arts in the Prairies when they’re coming to Ottawa for a major exposition would be unlike her or any other senator,” Segal told CBC News Tuesday.

Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen argues for some kind of provincial distinction.

Stewart Olsen said it is her personal view that if senators travel outside the provinces or territories they represent, the reason should be tied closely to regional interests. “It seems to me that if I was meeting with someone outside the province, then it really should be, to my way of thinking, someone or something that could benefit my province. In other words, not just because it was interesting, or that kind of thing,” Stewart Olsen said Wednesday, adding that other senators who take up causes that have a broader scope would view things differently.

The easiest line to draw might be the one rules out the expensing of strictly partisan business (the NDP’s Paul Dewar went ahead Wednesday and wondered aloud why senators even sit in party caucuses, though that strays a bit from the immediate issue), but otherwise this has the potential to get rather complicated.

One senator suggested to me today that this presents an opportunity for senators to explain the work they do and its value. This is the one aspect of the Wallin affair that might be relevant to the larger questions of the Senate’s purpose, utility and future.