With the news this week that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff wrote a personal cheque to help Senator Mike Duffy repay improper expense claims, Kim Mackrael looks at the fallout from accountability audits.
June 13, 2012: An analysis of Senate expense claims by Auditor-General Michael Ferguson finds that the Senate administration lacked proper documentation for many travel and living expenses, with members frequently going by the “honour principle” when submitting claims. The report also raises questions about senators’ adherence to the rules on claiming living expenses in the National Capital Region.
Nov. 22, 2012: A Senate subcommittee is formed to look at Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau’s housing claims. Senators whose primary residence is more than 100 kilometres away from Parliament Hill are allowed to claim up to $22,000 in living expenses to defray the costs of secondary accommodation while they are in Ottawa. Mr. Brazeau calls a home in Maniwaki, Que., his primary residence, but appears to spend most of his time in a Gatineau residence, within 100 kilometres of Ottawa.
Dec. 3, 2012: Media reports begin to raise similar questions about Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, who claims his Cavendish, PEI, cottage as his primary residence even though he has lived and worked in the Ottawa area for decades.
Dec. 6, 2012: The Senate committee on the internal economy, which is responsible for spending issues in the Red Chamber, announces that the subcommittee looking at Mr. Brazeau’s housing allowance would also consider Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who claims a house near Pembroke, Ont., as his primary residence but spends much of his time in Ottawa and is a former Ottawa city councillor. At the same time, the committee announced the Senate would look at residence claims for all senators to ensure they are backed up by proper documentation.
Feb. 5: Media reports reveal that Mr. Duffy applied for a PEI health card in December, 2012, and that he does not receive a resident tax credit for his home on the island, adding to questions about his residency there.
Feb. 8: The Senate internal economy committee refers all three senators’ housing claims to external auditing firm Deloitte for further review and requests a separate legal opinion on Mr. Duffy’s residency.
Feb. 12: Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin confirms her expenses are also being reviewed by an external auditing firm. Unlike the other three senators, whose housing claims were in question, Ms. Wallin is facing scrutiny over her travel claims.
Feb. 22: Mr. Duffy announces that he will pay back housing expenses he has claimed, while maintaining that the rules were not clear. “My wife and I discussed it and we decided that in order to turn the page to put all of this behind us, we are going to voluntarily pay back my living expenses related to the house we have in Ottawa.” After weeks of saying little about Mr. Duffy’s situation, the Prime Minister’s Office came to his defence, telling reporters, “The government has no doubt whatsoever about Senator Duffy’s qualification to represent PEI in the Senate.”
Feb. 27: Conservative Senator David Tkachuk, who chairs the internal economy committee, sends Mr. Duffy a letter that calculates the housing allowance he has claimed since becoming a Senator at $90,172.24, including interest. On the same day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds to a question in the House of Commons by claiming all senators meet the constitutional requirement that they live in the area they were appointed to represent.
Feb. 28: The Senate concludes its examination of members’ residency claims, saying it found no problems beyond those of Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Harb and Mr. Duffy. The internal economy committee also recommends the Senate tighten its rules on obtaining documentation for senators’ primary residences.
April 19: Mr. Duffy confirms that he repaid more than $90,000 in Senate housing expenses in March. “I have always said that I am a man of my word. In keeping with the commitment I made to Canadians, I can confirm that I repaid these expenses in March, 2013.”
May 9: The Senate internal economy committee tables its reports on the housing claims, along with the Deloitte audits. Deloitte says that all three senators spend most of their time in the Ottawa area, but adds that the rules are not clear enough to determine they made the housing claims incorrectly. But the committee goes further, saying Mr. Harb and Mr. Brazeau should have known better. The senators are ordered to repay about $51,000 and $48,000, respectively. Mr. Harb quits the Liberal caucus and announces he will fight the committee’s decision. Ms. Wallin’s travel expenses audit is still ongoing.
May 10: Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan announces that Mr. Duffy, “showed the kind of leadership that we would like to see from Liberal Senator Mac Harb, who instead is taking up arms against the Senate, saying that he should not have to pay back inappropriate funds.”
May 12: The RCMP confirms that it will examine Senate expense claims and may or may not launch an investigation.
May 14: Mr. Brazeau issues his first statement since the reports were submitted, saying he broke no rules and plans to fight the committee’s order to return the money.
May 15: The Prime Minister’s Office confirms that Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote a personal cheque to cover Mr. Duffy’s repayment of improper expense claims. The cheque, for $91,172, was sent by Mr. Wright on March 25.