Red Chamber

Housing expenses audit blames Senators and unclear rules

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

A view of the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2011. Members of the committee that polices Senate expenses have called in two senators for private interviews, raising to six the number of senators whose spending of public funds has come into question this year. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A Senate committee is expected to find that three senators should not have claimed tens of thousands of dollars in residency expenses, even though an independent audit concludes the Red Chamber’s rules are unclear and poorly defined.

New rules are expected to be announced Thursday that will aim to reduce the amount of money senators can claim while working in Ottawa, according to sources familiar with the process.

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The Senate Board of Internal Economy asked the independent auditing firm Deloitte to examine the expenses of Independent Patrick Brazeau, Conservative Mike Duffy and Liberal Mac Harb to determine whether their residency expenses complied with existing rules. The three senators were accused of claiming a home in the National Capital Region as a secondary residence in spite of indications that it was in fact their primary residence.

The Deloitte report says the definition of residency is not clear, with as many as five different terms currently in use to describe where senators live, according to sources. The five terms include primary residence, secondary residence, National Capital Region residence, provincial residence and registered residence. As a result of these multiple terms, the auditors, while raising concerns about the sentators’ actions, are expected to conclude they are unable to say definitively whether rules were broken.

The committee is expected to release its own report Thursday afternoon based on Deloitte’s findings, and its language on the three senators is expected to be much stronger.

Members of the committee met Wednesday evening in Parliament’s Centre Block with officials from Deloitte and Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella. Both Mr. Duffy and Mr. Harb were seen entering and leaving the closed-door meeting. A separate review of Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin’s expenses is not expected to be resolved this week.

Controversy over expenses has dogged the Senate for months, with sharp divisions over how the chamber should respond. Even with hours to go before the Senate issued its response, sources say there was still strong debate within both parties over whether the Senate should refer its findings to the RCMP.

On April 19, Mr. Duffy issued a statement announcing that he had reimbursed the Receiver General $90,172.24 for living allowance expenses.

Sources speculate that Mr. Harb could be asked to pay back a larger amount given that he has been in the Senate longer than Mr. Duffy, while Mr. Brazeau would be asked to pay back less because his claims were more recent. However, it is not clear how the committee will address the issue of repayment.

On his way into the meeting, Mr. Harb dismissed a report that he would owe more than $100,000.

“I can say in all certainty, the report is false,” he said. Asked how he felt about the meeting, Mr. Harb said, “I’m confident going in. As well, I’ll be confident coming out.”

Mr. Duffy played down the issue as he entered the meeting. “I don’t see this as a big deal,” he said.

Afterward, Mr. Duffy said he couldn’t speak about the committee’s report because it is under embargo until it is tabled in the Senate.

“I feel great, we can see the finish line,” he said. Asked how he was affected by the audit process, Mr. Duffy said, “It’s a business, you have to do your job and that’s what I’m doing. We’re working for PEI, we’ve got a lot on the go. I’m sorry, this isn’t going to deter me from doing my primary job.”