The man in charge of an external audit of Senator Pamela Wallin’s expense claims says he hopes the review will be finished by the summer but cannot control how long auditors take to complete their work.
Senator David Tkachuk, who chairs the Senate’s internal economy committee, said on Tuesday that he expects to provide an update later this week on when Ms. Wallin’s audit will be made public.
Mr. Tkachuk’s comments came as the Prime Minister faced new questions over his role in Senator Mike Duffy’s repayment of more than $90,000 in improperly claimed housing expenses. The Prime Minister’s Office revealed last week that Mr. Harper personally told Mr. Duffy to repay his expenses in February, after he was approached by the PEI senator following a caucus meeting. Opposition MPs questioned Mr. Harper about his knowledge of the financial arrangement between his former chief of staff and Mr. Duffy, and asked whether any of the Prime Minister’s staff were present during Mr. Harper’s conversation with Mr. Duffy in February.
“My views were known to the entire caucus. Mr. Duffy approached me to seek some clarification. I was very adamant that any inappropriate expenses should be repaid,” Mr. Harper said in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Ms. Wallin is one of four senators under scrutiny for their expense claims in recent years. Senators Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb were ordered to return tens of thousands of dollars in improperly claimed housing expenses after their audits were completed earlier this year, and Mr. Duffy’s repayment of more than $90,000 in improper housing expenses was not returned to him.
The Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned last month after it was revealed that he gave Mr. Duffy the money to repay his expenses.
A spokeswoman from the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer said on Tuesday that Lyse Ricard was suspending her review of the matter “for the time being” because it had been referred to the RCMP. The RCMP is still reviewing the Senate expense-claims matter to determine whether it will launch an investigation.
Part of the reason Ms. Wallin’s audit is taking longer than the others is because it focuses on her complicated travel expenses, rather than housing. Auditors were also instructed to expand their review to cover at least one more year in addition to the initial 18-month period they looked at.
Ms. Wallin claimed more than $375,000 in travel expenses between September, 2010, and February, 2013, according to Senate records, with only a small proportion of the claims listed for travel between Ottawa and her residence in Saskatchewan, the province she was appointed to represent. She has stated that she frequently stops in Toronto en route to Saskatchewan because there are no direct flights, and that some of those trips are recorded as “other travel.”
She declined to comment on Tuesday about reports that she has repaid about $40,000 since the audit began last fall. A spokesman from her office said Ms. Wallin is waiting for the auditor’s and the Senate’s reports on her expenses before commenting publicly. “She’d be happy to answer any and all questions at that time,” Mark Fisher wrote in an e-mail.
Last week, Senate sources indicated that they expected Ms. Wallin’s audit to be made public before the Senate rises for its summer break. Asked on Tuesday when Ms. Wallin’s audit was expected back, Mr. Tkachuk said he is still trying to find out.
“I don’t tell the auditors how fast they have to do it. I’d love it, I’d love to have it today. You think I want this process to, you know, sit out there for the summer months, I don’t,” he said.
Facing a growing public backlash over the expense issue, the Senate is expected to debate a motion on Wednesday that would invite the Auditor General to conduct “a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses, including senators’ expenses.”
Marjory LeBreton, the government leader in the Senate, called the move “the next step forward in the name of accountability and transparency.” She said the scope of the proposed audit would be left up to Auditor-General Michael Ferguson.
Mr. Ferguson completed a review of the Senate administration last year which found, in part, problems with documentation for some senators’ expense claims. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Auditor-General said on Tuesday that it had not yet received any formal correspondence from the Senate about conducting another audit.
With a report from Steven Chase