The Senate says it will start clawing back Senator Patrick Brazeau’s monthly wages in a bid to recover tens of thousands of dollars in expense claims he has refused to pay back.
Conservative Senator Gerald Comeau said he sent a letter to Mr. Brazeau on Tuesday informing him that 20 per cent will be deducted from his pay until the entire amount he owes is recovered. Mr. Brazeau had earlier been given a June 28 deadline to hand over $48,745.13 in expenses he claimed to help cover the cost of accommodation in the Ottawa area. The Quebec senator is also being asked to return another $4,000 in legal fees previously covered by the Senate.
Another senator, Mac Harb, was given until midnight on Wednesday to repay $51,482.90 in living expense claims.
A staff member from Mr. Brazeau’s office said Wednesday that the senator had refused to pay back the money because he does not believe he did anything wrong. Debby Simms said Mr. Brazeau followed the rules that were in place at the time he made the claims and maintains that he has been treated unfairly by the Senate.
A senator whose primary residence is more than 100 kilometres away from Parliament Hill is allowed to claim up to $22,000 a year in living expenses to help cover the cost of staying in the Ottawa area for work. Auditors who looked at expense claims submitted by Mr. Brazeau, Mr. Harb and Senator Mike Duffy concluded that all three spent more time in the Ottawa area than in the locations they claimed as their primary residences.
The auditors also noted that the rules on residency were unclear, but the Senate committee that handled the reviews ordered all three senators to return money they had claimed for living expenses during the audit period. Mr. Harb, who has been a senator for longer, was later told to repay all of his living expenses for the past eight years – an amount that is close to $232,000.
In a letter sent to Mr. Harb last month, the committee said he must repay about $51,000 by Wednesday, July 3, but suggested that he repay the full $232,000 or risk having his expenses examined further.
Mr. Comeau would not say on Wednesday if Mr. Harb’s wages will also be clawed back if he fails to pay before the deadline. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said. “We’re still hopeful that he’ll do something between now and midnight.”
Mr. Harb has filed an application for judicial review of the Senate’s decision to require him to return the money, arguing that the process was unfair and did not give him a reasonable opportunity to participate. Simon Ruel, Mr. Harb’s lawyer, said Wednesday that he could not comment on whether the Senator would repay the money.
Senators receive an annual base salary of $135,200. If the Senate deducts 20 per cent of Mr. Harb’s and Mr. Brazeau’s salaries, it would take around two years for each to repay the money.
Mr. Harb, a former Ottawa city councillor and MP for Ottawa Centre, resigned from the Liberal caucus in May after the audit of his expenses was made public. Mr. Brazeau was removed from the Conservative caucus in February after he was arrested – and later charged – in an unrelated matter.