The Senate committee in charge of a series of controversial expense audits has been asked to look at claims filed by Rod Zimmer, a former Liberal senator who recently retired from the Red Chamber.
It is not clear how serious any allegations against Mr. Zimmer might be, but staff in the Senate’s administration were concerned enough with some of his claims to refer the issue to a Senate committee this year, sources familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Zimmer, 70, announced his early retirement from the Red Chamber at the beginning of August, citing problems with his health.
He retired two months after the Senate voted to invite Auditor-General Michael Ferguson to take a closer look at senators’ books. Mr. Ferguson’s office has since indicated that his review will cover all senators’ expenses and could take about 18 months to complete.
Both the Senate and its members have faced intense scrutiny during the past year amid a long-running controversy over improper expense claims. Senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau and former senator Mac Harb have all been told to repay tens of thousands of dollars in expenses to the Red Chamber as a result of external audits of their claims and the RCMP have launched their own investigation into the issue.
A spokesman for Senate Liberal Leader James Cowan said his office was not aware of any concerns about Mr. Zimmer’s expense claims being raised with the Senate committee. “As far as his early retirement, Senator Zimmer has had a series of health issues and to the best of our knowledge that is the only reason behind the decision for him to retire,” he said.
Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau, who chairs the committee that ordered the expense claim audits, said Thursday that he was unable to comment on whether any individual senator’s expenses is under scrutiny.
However, he said members of the Senate steering committee on the internal economy would have to decide how to respond in the event that Senate staff raise concerns about senators’ expense claims during the course of Mr. Ferguson’s audit.
Now that Mr. Ferguson is involved, Mr. Comeau said, it may be more appropriate to share future concerns with the Auditor-General, rather than involve an external firm, as the committee did for other senators who were audited this year. “My preference would be that, if any red flags are raised by the administration in the foreseeable future … that these red flags be shared with the Auditor-General,” Mr. Comeau said.
Mr. Zimmer, who represented Manitoba, is one of two senators who were called before the steering committee in February to provide additional information about their housing arrangements. The committee, which was chaired at the time by Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, later announced that it was satisfied with both senators’ explanations.
Property records indicate that Mr. Zimmer bought a house in Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood in 2010 for $908,000. He took out a mortgage of $726,400 at that time and the mortgage has not yet been discharged, according to the records.
The businessman and long-time fundraiser was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Paul Martin in 2005. He previously worked as an executive in communications at the Manitoba Lotteries Foundation and CanWest Capital Corp.
His wife, 24-year-old Maygan Sensenberger, attracted significant media attention last year after a high-profile outburst on an Air Canada flight. Ms. Sensenberger later pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance and received a 12-month suspended sentence with probation.