Canada’s Auditor-General is pushing forward with a review of the expenses of each senator, widening an investigation into the Senate spending controversy that has shaken the Prime Minister’s Office.
Auditor-General Michael Ferguson, who was called in by the Senate two months ago, is expected to review all the office and travel expenses of each of Canada’s 100 senators, according to Senate sources. However, his audit’s timeline is unclear, as is how far back the audit will go.
Mr. Ferguson is said to have made his plans known while meeting with a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
His office didn’t return requests for comment Thursday evening.
Mr. Ferguson’s office had accepted the Senate’s June 4 request to “conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses, including senators’ expenses.” In a June 11 speech to a Senate committee, he had said it was too early to say what the audit might include.
“However, we can tell you that we will select the most significant or important processes in place and resources used by senators to conduct Senate business,” he said in the statement at the time.
“This audit’s focus will likely include senators’ expenses and samples of their office’s transactions but, as stated, we have yet to determine the scope of the audit,” he later added.
Mr. Ferguson appears to have strong cross-partisan support. After earlier calling for Mr. Ferguson’s office to have more regular oversight over the Senate, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal welcomed the audit’s broad scope Thursday.
“Committees of senators sitting in judgment of other senators, and also being the authority over Senate financial staff who give advice on travel rules, strikes me as way too cozy and potentially incestuous,” he said.
Senator Mobina Jaffer, a Liberal, said she wasn’t surprised by the Auditor-General’s plan, and had long expected all senators’ expenses to ultimately be audited, calling it the next step in restoring the institution’s reputation. “It just comes in the way of our work, so I just want this cloud to lift,” she said.
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos said Thursday he expects there will be little opposition to opening the books.
“I’m comfortable with that, I’m happy with it, and I think it’s most appropriate that any office holder, both in the Senate and the House of Commons, should be open to a forensic audit from time to time,” Mr. Housakos said, adding he’d be surprised if there was any resistance. Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth added: “We have nothing to hide.”
The widespread review comes after audits into Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin. All were found by auditors to have filed improper expenses, and their cases were referred to the RCMP for investigation.
The NDP has no senators and supports abolishing the Senate, but NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus nonetheless welcomed Mr. Ferguson’s audit. “We think this is the next step in getting to the bottom of Senate problems. I don’t think a single Canadian thinks this is a problem of three or four rogue senators,” he said.
The audit and the controversies come as the Supreme Court of Canada is preparing to consider several possible changes put forward by the federal government, including term limits for senators, consultations with the provinces on future appointments and whether Parliament can unilaterally abolish the Senate altogether.
Some senators have embraced the transparency measures, in effect distancing themselves from the questions facing Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Duffy, Mr. Harb and Ms. Wallin. One Conservative senator, Don Plett, had volunteered his expenses to be audited first.
Mr. Duffy paid back expenses after receiving a loan from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who resigned after the matter became public. Mr. Harper has previously defended Ms. Wallin’s travel costs. Auditors say she must repay $121,000 of those costs; she has already repaid $38,369. Mr. Harper hasn’t commented since the release of the audit into Ms. Wallin’s expenses, and his office referred questions Thursday to the Auditor-General and the Senate.
Ms. Jaffer said she welcomes whatever recommendations Mr. Ferguson ultimately makes.
“There is a system that they have set up that we follow, so I just don’t know what happened here,” she said, referring to the four investigations. “But I’m okay with whatever the system is. Obviously, it’s not our money.”