Auditors have expanded their probe of Senator Pamela Wallin’s expenses to include the housing allowance she claims for her residence in Ottawa.
The revelation came as Ms. Wallin admitted for the first time that she had “made mistakes” in filing expense claims for travel that was, in some cases, related to outside business. Speaking with the CBC Thursday night, Ms. Wallin insisted that the problems did not include questions about her residency in Saskatchewan.
She told the CBC that she threw herself at her work as a senator but failed to “mind the shop” properly. “There’s a lot of paperwork, particularly in government, every time you move, every time you go anywhere. Sort of more paperwork than is humanly possible to keep on top of. So I made mistakes,” she said.
Ms. Wallin also confirmed reports that she has paid back about $38,000 in improper expenses. A source has said that she will be expected to pay at least $20,000 more.
The audit initially focused on Ms. Wallin’s travel expenses and was launched after the Senate administration flagged concerns with some of those claims. But a letter sent by external auditors from Deloitte to the Senate’s internal economy committee this week indicates the review now includes questions about where Ms. Wallin’s primary residence is located.
“New information came to light during the second phase of the examination, including the need to establish where Senator Wallin’s primary and secondary residences were, as she was claiming and being reimbursed for living allowance expenses related to a residence in the National Capital Region during this expanded portion of the review,” the letter from Deloitte states.
Senators whose primary residence is located outside of Ottawa are allowed to claim up to $22,000 per year to help cover the cost of maintaining a secondary residence closer to their workplace on Parliament Hill.
In the CBC interview, Ms. Wallin says residency is not an issue for her. “We have gone through this. The Senate has signed off on it. Even the Prime Minister, sort of said, you meet the requirements,” she said.
Audits of three other senators’ housing claims, completed this year, found that each spent a majority of their time in Ottawa – but claimed their primary residence was outside of the city. The Senate’s internal economy committee ordered all three to return tens of thousands of dollars in housing and living expenses.
The letter from Deloitte, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, was written to explain the “perceived delay” in completing Ms. Wallin’s audit. Deloitte adds that the auditors were also waiting for information from third parties “regarding other possible sources of reimbursements.”
The committee has also asked auditors to expand their review to cover the entire period since Ms. Wallin became a senator in January, 2009. The audit is expected to be finished in mid-July and should be translated into French by the end of that month, auditors told the committee on Thursday.
“I didn’t deliberately set out to abuse this system in any way,” she told the CBC. “In fact I thought I was being pretty rigorous but I actually wasn’t being rigorous enough. And that’s on me and I am going to try and make that right if I can and I’ve done the best I can so far to try and do that and I am waiting for this final report when and if it comes and then I’ll try to make, I'll try to make that right too.”
Ms. Wallin is the only senator whose expenses are still being audited by Deloitte.
Audits for Senators Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau were finished in May, and both have been ordered to repay tens of thousands of dollars in expenses within a month, a Senate committee heard on Thursday. Mr. Brazeau was sent a letter on May 28 indicating that he must repay nearly $49,000 in expenses, while Mr. Harb’s letter was sent on June 3 and says he must repay more than $231,000.
Mr. Harb’s repayment was increased after the Senate tallied up his expenses for the past eight years. The letter to Mr. Harb indicates that he must pay the initial estimate of $51,482 within a month. But it suggests he repay the full amount anyway, threatening that if he does not, he could have to pay even more.
“Should you prefer to forgo an investigation of prior years owed, the total amount to be reimbursed would be $231,649.07,” the letter states.