A Conservative senator who has faced scrutiny over his personal expenses says the Red Chamber should make members’ detailed travel information available to the public.
Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut and was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009, was cleared by an internal Senate committee last week after questions were raised about whether he is entitled to a housing allowance for the time he spends in Ottawa. Mr. Patterson owns residences in both Iqaluit and Vancouver.
Asked about the level of detail provided to the public on senators’ expense claims, Mr. Patterson suggested that more disclosure, particularly on travel expenses, would be a positive step.
“When I’m travelling on public business, I don’t think there should be any limit on information provided in pursuit of that public business,” he said Tuesday outside the Senate.
The Red Chamber is grappling with calls to become more transparent after four members had their claims sent to external auditors.
Conservative Senator Mike Duffy, former Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Senator Mac Harb have all had their housing-allowance claims referred to external auditors. A fourth senator, Conservative Pamela Wallin, is having her travel expenses audited.
Quarterly summaries of all members’ expenses are posted online by the Senate, but do not contain details about where a Senator travelled or how much was spent on transportation and accommodation. In contrast, detailed information about travel by government ministers and parliamentary secretaries is posted online, including the destination and the time period of each trip. Other MPs provide a more detailed breakdown of expenses than senators do, but the information they post online does not break expenses down by individual trips.
Mr. Patterson said the Senate is looking into ways to increase its transparency as a result of the recent controversy.
“I think all these matters have caused members of the Senate to consider whether we could do further disclosure than we do now, and I think that discussion is ongoing right now and I think it’s healthy,” he said, adding, “I think there will undoubtedly be changes and reforms.”
Senators whose primary residence is more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa are entitled to claim a housing allowance of as much as $22,000 per year. But concern over the allowances came to light after media reports suggested several senators who claimed the expenses spent most of their time in the National Capital Region.
Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, a Conservative senator from Sherbrooke, also came under scrutiny after the newspaper La Presse reported that he continued to collect a housing allowance after he separated from his wife and moved to the Ottawa area last year. Mr. Boisvenu did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
But Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais said the Leader of the Senate, Marjory LeBreton, would hold a meeting with Mr. Boisvenu. “And after this, I don’t know,” he said.
Ms. LeBreton’s office issued a comment late Tuesday night saying the Senate is committed to ensuring expenses and rules are reported and that the information is reported to the public. “We have no comment on senators’ personal lives.”
The NDP used an opposition day on Tuesday to debate a motion to abolish the Senate, a move the party, which has no senators, has long called for. The Conservative government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to settle questions that include the constitutionality of abolishing the Senate or requiring that members be elected.
Mr. Patterson was one of two Senators called before an internal committee last week because documentation they provided about their living arrangements left the members with additional questions. Both senators were cleared after their interviews, but the committee did not answer additional questions about whether senators must prove that they live in the province or territory they represent.
Speaking with The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Mr. Patterson said he is a resident of Nunavut and suggested that if anyone looked into his personal travel records they would be satisfied that he lives in Iqaluit.
He said he would not provide the additional documentation to a reporter, but would make it public if the Senate required that level of disclosure in the future.
“I’m comfortable with meeting the full requirements as established by the rules of the Senate,” he said. “And I’ve done so to date.”