The Senate leadership is pushing for a quick end to a growing controversy over expenses that could force some senators to pay back housing allowances worth tens of thousands of dollars.
In a joint letter, the top ranking Conservative and Liberal in the Senate asked the Upper Chamber’s internal economy committee to move “as soon as possible” toward a final public report on whether any senators broke the rules.
At issue is a special housing allowance that senators can claim to cover the cost of a residence in the National Capital Region as long as they sign a document saying their primary residence is more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill.
A copy of the form obtained by The Globe and Mail shows a section called “Senator’s declaration,” in which the senator must sign below a section stating: “I declare that the information provided above is accurate …”
The committee announced last week that it has referred the expenses of Conservative senators Patrick Brazeau (who was kicked out of the caucus last week) and Mike Duffy, and Liberal Mac Harb to the external auditing firm Deloitte.
All three have all claimed more than $30,000 each for “living expenses in the National Capital Region” since the Senate began publishing detailed expenses online in the fall of 2010.
Media reports have raised questions over whether their primary residences are in fact more than 100 kilometres away.
“Obviously, a claim of secondary residence presupposes that one’s primary residence is elsewhere. In late 2012, concerns were raised in the media as to the legitimacy of such claims by some senators,” states the letter, signed by Marjory LeBreton, the Conservative Government Leader in the Senate, and James Cowan, the Liberal Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
The letter asks the committee to take an additional step and interview each senator who has claimed a secondary residence allowance to confirm the legitimacy of such claims.
“Should any senator be unable to convince you that the claim is valid, that senator should be required to repay immediately all monies so paid with interest,” the letter states. “We believe it is vital for the reputation of the Senate and those senators who are in full compliance with our rules and regulations that this determination be made as soon as possible and that the result be made public.”
In an unrelated matter, the Senate is expected to vote as early as Tuesday to suspend Mr. Brazeau with pay in light of the fact that he was charged last week with assault and sexual assault.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair led off Question Period on Monday using the latest controversies as examples in support of his party’s call for the Senate to be abolished.
“Senator Mike Duffy has been caught claiming a generous PEI housing allowance while holding an Ontario health card. That is to say nothing of Mr. Patrick Brazeau,” Mr. Mulcair said. “How many more disgraceful incidents like these will it take before the Prime Minister admits that this pork-barrel patronage project, otherwise known as the Senate, should be abolished?”
Responding on behalf the government, Heritage Minister James Moore said a Senate committee is looking into the allegations. He also pointed out that if provinces elect a Senate nominee, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shown they will be appointed.