Senator Pamela Wallin is being asked to repay $121,348 after an independent audit found a series of problems with the former broadcaster’s expense claims – including billing taxpayers for partisan fundraisers.
The release of the audit Tuesday gave new life to the ongoing Senate expenses scandal, including questions about claims made by Ms. Wallin as well as Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb. The four have been asked to repay a combined total of roughly $490,000.
Ms. Wallin’s case is different than the others, in that it focuses squarely on travel. The audit found Ms. Wallin racked up costs by attending a series of events, and regularly stopping in Toronto while flying between Ottawa, the capital, and Saskatchewan, her home province. It also found she had retroactively altered some of her schedule records as the review was continuing, something she said was done for clarity and to protect privacy.
Ms. Wallin has already repaid $38,369.29 and has pledged to repay whatever she owes, but called the audit process “flawed and unfair.”
The audit found that Ms. Wallin claimed $90,323 in travel for “non-Senate business,” citing 79 examples.
They include at least six partisan activities, such as appearing on a political panel debate during the 2011 election and attending a “Here for Canada PM Rally” during the same campaign, according to the audit. That trip, from April 13 to 23, cost a total of $5,419.68, though auditors are only recommending she be asked to repay $466.16 of that. It’s not clear why. Elections Canada records also show Ms. Wallin headlined a partisan fundraiser for Saskatchewan MP Ray Boughen in Moose Jaw during that trip, though the audit doesn’t mention that event.
Other partisan activities include a $100-a-plate fundraiser during April, 2009, in Saskatoon for four local Conservative riding groups, according to the audit. “This does not appear to be Senate business, as it was a fundraising event,” the auditors said. Ms. Wallin also billed taxpayers for an event honouring former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, which the audit said “appears to be a partisan event.”
The auditors found another partisan event that required “interpretation” under Senate rules – a $119 claim from January, 2011, for a speaking event by Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, who has since been promoted to cabinet, as well as an event titled “Fairchild TV – PMO,” an apparent reference to a Chinese-Canadian television station and the Prime Minister’s Office. The broadcaster aired an interview with Ms. Wallin shortly after, but it’s unclear what the PMO’s involvement was.
Ms. Wallin also appears to have attended events for former MP Bev Oda and Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz, according to a letter send by her lawyer to the auditors.
In her time as a senator, Ms. Wallin has served on several corporate boards, including Porter Airlines and Calgary-based Oilsands Quest Inc. The latter paid her at least $600,000, according to to its financial filings, and the audit found that some trips to Calgary were paid for by a “third party.”
On five occasions, however, she claimed Senate reimbursement for what auditors deemed “personal” travel or “private business” in Calgary. The costs were billed as Senate business, and Ms. Wallin has since repaid two of the claims, totalling $7,356.40, saying they were made in error.
The auditors also flagged $1,402.59 in expenses for two Porter events, including one 2010 event Ms. Wallin billed as Senate business for a luncheon that the auditors said “appears to be of a personal interest given her role at the time on the board of an airline company.”
She also served as chancellor for the University of Guelph, an unpaid position. The auditors allege she should repay $2,728.35 for a trip billed to her Senate account that appears to have only included a Guelph convocation. She also billed $511.14 to fly to Toronto, where she caught a flight to Punta Cana for a private conference. The auditors found that didn’t count as “Senate business.”
Ms. Wallin represents Saskatchewan and keeps a home there, but owns a condo in Toronto. The audit found that she spends most of her time in that city. As such, she tends to stop there while flying between Ottawa and Saskatchewan.
Auditors included information from 94 flights Ms. Wallin took from the capital to her home province. Of those, 11 were direct and one had a connection. Of the rest, 43 stopped in Toronto for one night, 32 stopped in Toronto for more than one night and seven used other routes. Ms. Wallin told the auditors that she didn’t claim per diems or living allowances for the stopovers, but the auditors demonstrated that the costs piled up – extra cab fares and higher airline fares, as she typically booked each leg of the journey separately.
Ms. Wallin has argued that flights between Ottawa and Saskatchewan are infrequent, and that her Saskatchewan home lies another two hours from the airport, making late-night travel difficult, particularly in the winter. When the costs were raised earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Ms. Wallin’s travel claims are similar to those of other senators. The difference, as the auditors lay out, is her frequent stops in Toronto. The auditors say these costs totalled $31,025.
Changing the calendar
Deloitte found Ms. Wallin’s current Microsoft Outlook calendar was “inconsistent” with previously archived versions – dozens of meetings had been added, changed or deleted this year as she faced questions about her expenses. Asked Tuesday why the RCMP were called in, Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau said: “Well, the Deloitte report referred to inconsistencies.”
The auditors cite four examples, all from 2009. They include a June 4 flight to Toronto. According to the audit, Ms. Wallin said she flew back for a 5:30 p.m. Institute of Corporate Directors award ceremony. However, the audit found that the event was added in to the calendar in 2013. Previous versions show she arrived at 9 p.m. that night and submitted a claim for a ride from “airport to home.”
In another instance, she billed a flight from Ottawa to Toronto for “Senate business” on June 8, returning the next afternoon, according to the audit. Her current Outlook calendar shows two meetings, but auditors found her previous calendar said she was attending a convocation at the University of Guelph, where she served as chancellor. The Guelph information was deleted “some time in 2013” from her calendar, the auditors found.
In another case later that month, she billed a flight from Ottawa to Toronto for “senate business” to attend an event. The auditors ruled “it does not appear that she attended” and noted Ms. Wallin “subsequently agreed she likely did not attend.”
Finally, Ms. Wallin flew to Saskatoon in April, 2009, for a fundraiser for four Conservative riding associations. Her calendar was altered this year to remove “4 riding fundraiser” from her calendar, the auditors found.
Ms. Wallin’s lawyer, Terrence O'Sullivan, wrote Deloitte on July 26 outlining explanations of the changes to the Outlook calendar. It was treated “as a working document” to prepare it with as much as information as possible, he wrote, with omissions made to “protect the legitimate expectations of privacy” of those Ms. Wallin met with. Events were deleted if Ms. Wallin hadn't attended them, he said.
On trips where Ms. Wallin juggled both Senate business and other endeavours, she charged some trips to the Senate and others to a third party, he wrote. In cases where board meeting trips were accidentally charged to the Senate, she didn’t pocket money because companies would have reimbursed her anyhow, he argued. “It is important to note, however, that in no case was the Senator seeking personal gain,” Mr. O'Sullivan wrote.
Ms. Wallin was cleared by auditors for her housing claims, an area where her fellow troubled senators – Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb – found themselves in trouble.The other trio found were asked to repay housing costs claimed in Ottawa for what auditors said were their primary residences. Senators living more than 100 kilometres outside Ottawa are permitted to claim some expenses for living costs in the capital, but those who live in the capital are not.
Deloitte found Ms. Wallin claimed $52,099 in expenses related to living in the Ottawa region, in both housing costs and hotel fees. Given her travel pattern, the auditors ruled she didn’t live in Ottawa, and was therefore entitled to claims, which the auditors said “appear to be appropriate in keeping with Senate practice.”