After first pledging to defend his housing claims in court, Mac Harb has abandoned his legal fight, repaid a total of $231,649 and resigned from the Senate.
Mr. Harb is said to have made the decision after the wide scope of a Senate spending review by Canada’s Auditor-General became clear, with his lawyer saying the former senator, who was facing a long and expensive legal battle, didn’t want to be the “poster boy” for the lengthy audit.
In departing, Mr. Harb said his claims were in keeping with common Senate practice, and that “most senators made similar claims.” The Liberal appointee maintains he was treated unfairly by a Conservative-dominated committee and believes the Auditor-General’s investigation, due to be completed in 2015, will vindicate him.
Mr. Harb’s resignation comes as the Liberal caucus – senators and MPs – meets in Prince Edward Island this week. It also leaves six open seats in the Senate. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week he has “no immediate plans” to fill any Senate vacancies, and a spokesman for Mr. Harper said Monday that statement still stands after Mr. Harb’s departure.
His resignation is the latest development in the Senate expense scandal. Mr. Harb is one of four senators whose cases were referred to the RCMP after a Senate committee asked each to repay certain expenses. Those RCMP investigations are ongoing. But while Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin will continue to serve in the Senate, Mr. Harb – who had been eligible to serve until 2028 – announced his exit Monday.
“These past few months have been extremely difficult for me and my family and caused me to evaluate what more I could contribute in the circumstances,” Mr. Harb said in a statement. “My dispute with the Senate Committee on Internal Economy [Budgets and Administration] made working effectively in the Senate unrealistic.”
Mr. Harb had previously repaid $51,482.90 on July 5. On Monday, he paid another $180,166.17, representing all living expenses dating back to the 2005-06 fiscal year, plus interest. It was a figure the Senate had asked for. He also dropped his legal fight.
He’s eligible for a federal pension, one the Canadian Taxpayers Federation calculates as being worth $122,989 annually, based on Mr. Harb’s time as an MP and as a senator. His lawyer couldn’t confirm the figure. In 2013, senators earned $135,200.
Mr. Harb’s audit focused on his living expenses. He kept a home outside Ottawa, which he declared his primary residence, and claimed expenses on a residence in the city. The audit, released in May, found “a lack of clarity” in Senate rules on housing expenses and was, essentially, inconclusive. “We are not able to assess the status of the primary residence declared by Senator Harb,” the auditors wrote. A Senate committee, however, said the rules were clear and that Mr. Harb should pay back the claims.
Mr. Harb’s lawyer, Paul Champ, also acknowledged his client’s now-abandoned legal case would have been an “uphill” battle based on jurisdiction, saying courts have been hesitant to weigh in on matters of Parliament. While there was a “real chance” of setting a legal precedent, “he just kind of decided he didn’t want to be, you know, the poster boy for this anymore,” Mr. Champ said.
Mr. Harb resigned from the Liberal caucus after his audit’s release in May, but remained in the Senate as an Independent. The Liberal Leader in the Senate, James Cowan, said Monday he had no advance notice of Mr. Harb’s resignation, but that he doesn’t know of any other senators with similar housing claims that could be revealed by the Auditor-General.
“I’ve always said this is not a problem of the Senate. This is a problem of some individual senators and their interpretation of the rules,” Mr. Cowan said, before later praising Mr. Harb’s track record as a legislator. “He was an active senator, and he made a great contribution I think both in the Senate and in the House, and I respect his decision to do what he did [and resign].”
Mr. Harb had previously taken out a loan from an Ottawa businessman’s company to pay for legal costs. He took out another loan, of an unspecified amount, to help pay the final $180,166.17, his lawyer said. Property records also show Mr. Harb has sold two properties in the past two months, including the home in Westmeath, Ont., that had been declared as his primary residence. Those properties sold for a combined $524,000.
The Senate is slowly recovering the money it was seeking. Mr. Duffy repaid $91,172 in expense claims, though did so after receiving the money from Nigel Wright, who was then the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. Ms. Wallin has been ordered to repay $138,969, and has paid back $38,369. Mr. Brazeau has been told to repay $51,482, and the Senate is garnishing his wages until the sum is recovered.