Pamela Wallin is defending her Senate expenses, arguing that she travels to Saskatchewan more often than public records suggest.
The Conservative Senator is acknowledging her expenses are being reviewed by an outside auditing firm, raising to four the number of senators who are having their expenses reviewed by Deloitte.
In a radio interview Wednesday morning with Saskatoon talk radio station 650 CKOM, the Senator said that many of her trips to Saskatchewan – which she represents in the Senate – are not direct, and therefore are listed as “other” travel, rather than regular travel.
“If I fly from Ottawa to Toronto and do an event – say, go give a speech or go to a dinner or whatever it is I’m doing –and if I sleep in Toronto, either in a hotel or a condo or whatever it is, then that flight the next morning – where I fly from Toronto to Saskatoon or Toronto to Regina – that flight then shows up in the categories that are made public on the internet from the Senate as ‘other’ travel,” she said.
“When you look at the raw statistics, it goes ‘Oh, she travels other places. She doesn’t travel to her riding.’”
All Senators must disclose their travel expenses under those two categories. Regular travel is defined as a trip between Ottawa and a Senator’s home province. Other travel is defined as “all other travel.” Ms. Wallin has claimed $29,423.84 in regular travel and $321,037.58 in “other” travel since Sept. 2010.
Ms. Wallin confirmed her interaction with the Deloitte auditing firm just hours after the lead Conservative senator responsible for reviewing spending by senators denied Ms. Wallin’s expenses had been referred to an outside audit.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he reviewed Ms. Wallin’s travel bills and they appear to be in line.
Mr. Harper said the amount Ms. Wallin charges taxpayers to commute between Ottawa and her home province of Saskatchewan mirrors what other parliamentarians from the area bill each year.
Records show that the amount Ms. Wallin bills specifically to travel to Saskatchewan from Ottawa pales in comparison to what she cites as “other” travel.
On Tuesday evening, CTV reported that Ms. Wallin is being audited over her travel expenses.
The Saskatchewan senator is quoted as telling CTV: “I certainly did willingly meet with a representative from Deloitte to review travel expenses and I answered all questions and have provided all the necessary information regarding claims.”
Questions have been raised as to whether Ms. Wallin qualifies as a Saskatchewan resident.
Ms. Wallin’s situation is different than the three other Senators who are currently having their expenses reviewed by Deloitte: Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb. In all three cases, the Senators are claiming a special expense available to senators with a secondary residence in the National Capital Region whose main home is more than 100 kilometres away.
Those three are facing questions as to whether their residence in the Ottawa area is in fact their primary residence, which could mean their expenses likely would not qualify.
In Ms. Wallin’s case, she also claims expenses for a residence in the National Capital Region. However, there are no suggestions that that is her primary residence. Media reports have suggested that her primary residence could be a condo she owns in Toronto.
Ms. Wallin says Saskatchewan is her home, but acknowledges that she also has a condo in Toronto. All Senators have been asked to provide evidence in support of their residency, including their driver’s licence, health card, proof of where they pay income tax and where they voted in recent elections. Ms. Wallin’s office has said this information was provided internally, but has not commented publicly on what those records show in terms of her residence.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail around 6 p.m. Tuesday, just hours before the CTV report, Conservative Senator David Tkachuk denied Ms. Wallin’s expenses had been referred to external auditors.
Mr. Tkachuk is the chair of the Senate committee on internal economy, budgets and administration. That is the committee that is currently reviewing all senator expenses. The committee announced last week that it was referring the expenses of Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Harb to Deloitte for an external review.
“Well, it’s no to everybody except those three. We haven’t referred anybody,” said Mr. Tkachuk, when asked whether the expenses of Ms. Wallin or any other senators had been referred to external auditors.
Then when asked again whether Ms. Wallin’s expenses have been referred to outside auditors, Mr. Tkachuk repeated the statement.
“Nobody has. The reason I said no is not because it’s her, but nobody has except those three,” he said, in reference to Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Harb.
Mr. Tkachuk has not yet provided a full explanation of the descrepancy between his comments and Ms. Wallin’s. Ms. Wallin has not responded to a request for an interview with the Globe.
In an opinion piece provided to The Globe and Mail prior to the CTV story, Ms. Wallin writes that, “My heart is in Wadena, Saskatchewan, and so is my home. Wadena is where I reside in my home province.”
Ms. Wallin also states that she spent 168 days in her home province last year and 94 days in Ottawa. She confirms that she owns one condo in Toronto.
“It’s the place where I worked for many of my years on national television before going to New York as the Canadian Consul General after 9/11. As my friends say, I actually live on airplanes,” she writes.
The op-ed does not clarify any of the residence criteria listed in Monday’s letter by Senate leaders, such as where she pays taxes.
With files from Canadian Press