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Senator James Cowan, the Liberal Senate leader, talks to media in Ottawa, Thursday, May 9, 2013 after copies of a report of an audit on Senators housing expenses were handed out. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Senator James Cowan, the Liberal Senate leader, talks to media in Ottawa, Thursday, May 9, 2013 after copies of a report of an audit on Senators housing expenses were handed out. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Senate Liberals to delay debate to sending expenses to Auditor-General Add to ...

The Liberal minority in the Senate says it won’t allow the Harper government to expedite a motion calling in the Auditor-General to audit the Red Chamber.

Marjory LeBreton, the Harper government’s leader in the Senate, announced Monday she is going to pass a motion calling in the Auditor-General to perform an across-the-board audit of all expenses incurred by senators.

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The Liberals say they support the measure in principle but want more time to study it.

The Conservatives plan to seek unanimous consent to start debate on the motion today, Tuesday, instead of waiting out the required one-day notice after such measures are put on the order paper.

The Liberals say it’s not fair to ask Senators to assent to debate without giving the chamber more time to read and study the measure.

“The rules state that it’s not debatable until tomorrow ... you have to give notice the day before,” said Marc Roy, spokesman for James Cowan, Liberal Leader in the Senate.

They plan to deny the Tories the consent they require to accelerate debate on the motion.

The Liberals say debate on the motion can take place Wednesday instead.

“They want us to start debating immediately something we’ve just seen for 30 seconds? Well, no, we’re not going to do that. We’re not in a race here. One day is not going to make a difference,” Mr. Roy said.

“Anything that does go through any House of Parliament, especially as important as this, deserves proper thought and input.”

Separately, the NDP served notice Tuesday that they plan to introduce a motion in Parliament calling for all public funding of the Senate to end on July 1, 2013 – an effort to highlight their preference to abolish the chamber.

The Harper government’s move to recruit a high-profile investigator to conduct a wide-ranging audit of the Senate is an attempt to convince Canadians that arm’s-length scrutiny is being brought to bear on a spending controversy where the Senate has been seen to be too lenient.

Leaked documents have shown, for example, that a Senate committee softened its criticism of PEI Senator Mike Duffy over his more than $90,000 worth of improperly claimed expenses.

“Obviously the only body that would really satisfy the public we are serious about this is the Auditor-General of Canada,” Ms. LeBreton said in an interview Monday.

Ms. LeBreton said it’s clear that Canadians don’t believe senators can police themselves.

She defends the steps the Senate has already taken – including hiring Deloitte to audit some claims – but acknowledged the public didn’t agree. “There was a perception, more than a reality, that it’s a closed little club” in the Red Chamber, she said.

The government leader in the Senate said Auditor-General Michael Ferguson and his office to will have free rein as auditors – “to go where they want to go.”

The government has found itself engulfed by the Senate expenses controversy since mid-May when the Prime Minister’s then chief of staff Nigel Wright was revealed to have secretly dipped into his own fortune to bail out Mr. Duffy over improperly claimed expenses the senator was under pressure to return to taxpayers.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is investigating the transaction. Mr. Wright has retained Guy Giorno, another former chief of staff to Stephen Harper, to provide legal advice. Mr. Giorno is an expert in ethics laws.

Three Harper appointees to the Red Chamber – and one Liberal appointee – have faced criticism and audits over claims they filed. Mr. Duffy has repaid his housing expense claims and senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb have been ordered to repay tens of thousands of dollars as well. Senator Pamela Wallin’s audit into travel expenses is continuing.

The RCMP is still reviewing whether it will launch an investigation into the expense-claims matter.

The proposed Auditor-General’s audit would go beyond reports tabled last year that merely examined the administration of both the Senate and the House of Commons, but did not audit MPs or senators.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

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