Senator Pamela Wallin could not provide a copy of her health card to the Senate because she was denied coverage in both Ontario and Saskatchewan, according to a letter she sent to Senate administrators.
The letter, sent in response to a Senate request for updated information on Ms. Wallin’s residences, also notes that the Saskatchewan senator did not vote in the last federal, provincial or municipal elections because of her schedule. A date stamp on the document indicates that it was processed by the Senate at the beginning of May.
Asked about the letter on Tuesday, a staff member from Ms. Wallin’s office would say only that the senator has a Saskatchewan health card. Staffer Mark Fisher declined to respond to follow-up questions from The Globe and Mail about when Wallin obtained the card and why she had indicated in the letter that she did not have one.
Ms. Wallin, who was appointed to the Senate in 2009 to represent Saskatchewan, has faced questions in the media about how much time she spends in that province. The veteran broadcast journalist and former diplomat has lived and worked in Toronto, Ottawa and New York City, but says her primary residence is in Wadena, Sask., a small town about two hours east of Saskatoon.
“As requested, we are updating information for the Primary and Secondary Residences Declaration,” the letter states. It indicates that Ms. Wallin included copies of her birth certificate and driver’s licence but could not provide information about where she voted or a copy of her health card.
“I have not been able to vote in the last federal, provincial or municipal elections due to the travel and work schedule,” the letter states. “Birth certificate and driver’s license are copied and enclosed. I have been denied health coverage in both Ontario and Saskatchewan and so cannot provide a card.”
Like other senators who live outside of the National Capital Region, Ms. Wallin claims living expenses while staying in Ottawa. Some senators' claims have come under greater scrutiny in recent months, however, with questions being raised about how much time senators should be spending in their home provinces to qualify for the allowance, which is worth up to $22,000 per year.
Last month, the Senate’s internal economy committee ordered three senators to return tens of thousands of dollars in housing claims after external auditors found that they spent more time in Ottawa than in the locations they had listed as their primary residences.
A separate audit of Ms. Wallin’s expenses is continuing. While it seemed first to focus on her travel claims, auditors indicated this month that they were also looking into the location of her primary and secondary residences.
Saskatchewan’s Health Ministry indicates that residents must live in the province for at least six months each year to be eligible for provincial health benefits, and Ontario’s system is similar – residents in that province must be physically present for at least 153 days per year once they have established residency.
In a recent letter to the editor of her local newspaper, Ms. Wallin wrote that she spent 168 days in Saskatchewan last year – slightly less than the six months the province requires for health coverage. But the senator insisted that her residency was not in question.
“The fact is – and the Senate agrees – that my home is Wadena, Saskatchewan,” she wrote in the Wadena News.
Auditors have said it will take them until the end of July to submit final copies of their report on Ms. Wallin to the Senate’s internal economy committee. In an interview with CBC’s The National , Ms. Wallin admitted to claiming expenses for business travel that were not related to the Senate, saying she made mistakes in her paperwork.
Editor's note: An earlier headline incorrectly suggested Senator Pamela Wallin currently lacks a health card. In fact, Ms. Wallin told the Senate in a letter received in early May: “I have been denied health coverage in both Ontario and Saskatchewan and so cannot provide a card.” As the article stated, an aide to the Senator said on Tuesday that Ms. Wallin has a Saskatchewan health card. In addition, the article incorrectly stated Ms. Wallin collects a housing allowance to help cover the cost of maintaining a secondary residence in Ottawa. In fact, Ms. Wallin claims living expenses while staying in Ottawa and she does not currently maintain a secondary residence in the city.