The Conservative government says it will release the results of all four ongoing investigations of senators as it scrambles to put a lid on a sprawling controversy over expenses.
The latest position is the third different message in three days from the Tories regarding an audit of expenses filed by Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, who has claimed more than $350,000 for travel over 27 months – an average of nearly $13,000 a month.
That is in addition to Ms. Wallin’s travel as a member of the Senate foreign affairs and defence committees, which is reported separately.
Marjory LeBreton, the Government Leader in the Senate, made the promise to reporters on Thursday afternoon.
“We are committed to making the results of these investigations public,” she said on her way in to the Senate chamber.
When asked if that included the report on Ms. Wallin, Ms. LeBreton said: “Including Ms. Wallin.” The Liberal Leader in the Senate, James Cowan, later said he agrees that the results should be released.
While the government appeared eager to distance itself from three other senators facing expense audits announced last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has personally defended Ms. Wallin in the House of Commons this week.
The Conservatives initially denied Ms. Wallin’s expenses were being audited. On Tuesday, David Tkachuk, the Conservative chairman of the Senate committee on internal economy, which is responsible for Senate audits, told The Globe and Mail there was no such audit.
On Wednesday, Mr. Tkachuk not only confirmed the audit, but said it was launched several weeks ago because senators on the committee were concerned by some “very unusual” items in Ms. Wallin’s expenses.
“There were some unusual items. Nothing illegal, but very unusual, and so that’s why we did it,” he told The Globe on Wednesday. “It has nothing to do with her residency. It has nothing to do with that at all.”
He also said the committee had planned on keeping the Wallin audit secret unless it uncovered serious issues.
Mr. Tkachuk had said the Wallin audit was different from the external audits of three other senators: suspended independent Patrick Brazeau, Conservative Mike Duffy and Liberal Mac Harb. Audits of those three senators are focused on whether they are entitled to claim expenses meant to cover the cost of a secondary residence in the Ottawa area.
Mr. Tkachuk did not say what was unusual about Ms. Wallin’s expenses. However, Ms. Wallin suggested in a radio interview on Wednesday it has to do with the way her travel is reported publicly. She said the reports give a misleading impression that she doesn’t travel to Saskatchewan very often. She said that is because her trips to the province are often indirect, which means the travel is listed publicly as “other” travel.
“I think what’s really clear is that the Senate is making this up as they go along,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, whose party has no senators and favours abolition of the Senate, led off Question Period again on Thursday with Senate expenses.
“Will the Prime Minister continue to defend this blatant abuse of public funds or stand up for taxpayers?” the Opposition Leader asked.
Mr. Harper said Ms. Wallin’s expenses are comparable to those of NDP MPs from Western Canada.