The Senate is threatening to take legal action against two senators who were ordered to return tens of thousands of dollars in living expenses.
Senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb were both told to repay money they had claimed to help cover the cost of living in Ottawa while working for the Senate. Mr. Brazeau was given until Friday to return about $49,000 in living expenses, while Mr. Harb was given until July 3 to return close to $232,000.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Brazeau said on Friday that the senator did not plan to repay the money before the deadline.
“We are currently exploring options with experts in government accountability and contract law,” Debby Simms wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “Additionally, we have reached out to both the Senate Ethics Officer and the Auditor General regarding the Internal Economy Committee's questionable actions toward Senator Brazeau.”
Ms. Simms said the senator was following Senate policy at the time he claimed the money for living expenses. She said the committee that examined Mr. Brazeau’s expenses changed the terms and conditions of the housing policy after the fact and is attempting to impose a penalty on him retroactively.
Senators whose primary residence is more than 100 kilometers from Parliament Hill are allowed to claim up to $22,000 per year to help cover the costs of staying in the National Capital Region. Mr. Harb and Mr. Brazeau both claimed the money even though external auditors found they spent more time in the Ottawa area than at the locations they had described as their primary residences.
The auditors said the Senate’s rules on primary and secondary residences were unclear, but the Senate committee that handled the review disagreed and ordered both senators to repay the money.
The committee also said the Senate would keep the money already returned by Senator Mike Duffy, who repaid about $90,000 in living expenses to the Senate earlier this year after he received a cheque from the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff.
Mr. Harb is already fighting the Senate’s repayment order in court. He filed an application for judicial review with the Ontario Superior Court earlier this month, asking it to quash the decision that found he should not have claimed expenses for his Ottawa residence.
In a statement released on Friday, Senate spokeswoman Annie Joannette said the Senate would take steps to get the money back. “The Senate will use the legal means at its disposal if the Senator(s) decide to not repay,” she wrote in an e-mail, adding, “The Senate will not comment on the legal actions it may take on this matter.”
Earlier this year, Senate government leader Marjory LeBreton said the Senate could consider withholding a portion of Mr. Harb’s and Mr. Brazeau’s wages to recoup the money.
The RCMP is looking into the three Senators’ expense claims and has seized documents relating to Senate rules and expense claim information.
An external audit of Senator Pamela Wallin’s expenses is continuing and is expected at the end of July.